SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers may be found in the following article.
Bar Boys: a film that follows one barkada, four young men, in their personal and collective struggles through law school and ultimately the bar exams. As shown from the poster above in clockwise order from the top left, the film focuses on the lives of Erik, Torran, Joshua, and Chris. First, we learn from the film that Erik’s struggles involve coming from a poor family, a poor grasp on English, an unreliable memory, and being unaffiliated (i.e. one without a fraternity). Second, we meet Torran, the apparent alpha in the barkada, with impeccable memory, a solid fraternity, and just the right smarts and connections to get him by law school without much difficulty. He encounters some moral conflict, however, when it comes to participating and reporting hazing excesses (he’s fine with just hazing) – which is as much conflict as he gets in the movie. Third: Joshua failed to pass the law school entrance exam and becomes a model. Throughout the film his character plays a foil of sorts to the self-enclosed realm of the three other men in law school: a reminder of things past and of the world outside. Lastly, Chris is the called the “conyo kid” for his accented English and his roots from a wealthy family – a fact he literally says out loud near the end of the film, “dahil mayaman ako, hindi ibig sabihin na wala akong problema!” With great power comes great responsibility – thus, Chris’ father has high expectations and even required him to break up with his girlfriend to “avoid distractions.” While kind and caring in appearance, he has no qualms in showing his ruthless side when the time calls for it such as handing out failing grades to his classmates who got wrong answers and choosing to keep his honors over taking a lower grade to allow Erik to graduate on time.
The film had 110 minutes according to IMDB – quite a feat considering that those 110 minutes condensed 5 years of studying in law school and the bar exams. I have to admit that I was skeptical on how a film could condense all that – but Bar Boys managed it. According to a Bar Boys press conference I found on YouTube – the objective of the film was to show the deeply personal struggles behind the toil in the study of law: “underneath that exterior of aral-aral…may istorya yan eh – why they persist. And that’s what the film tries to uncover: ano ba ‘yung istorya mo underneath that exterior,” said the director. On that point, I could say that Bar Boys was rather successful. But as a movie, the problem with that objective is that it could well apply to anything. In other words, it was just too generic.
Every human being has a story. Every person has a past – a history – one with their own dreams and aspirations. And every struggle that involves human conflict eventually is an opportunity for personal revelation. If I could paraphrase Arendt: it is through speech and action that the actor is disclosed and revealed as a person. Why else would the Iliad have those grandiose, largely impractical speeches between two soldiers before they fight to the death? Why have poets and artists taken war as their subject throughout the centuries? Maybe they too saw that war was one way to distill the human condition. That being said, the movie ended up as a compilation of law school anecdotes. We see the challenges of poverty every day in the news as do we see the comforts of the rich or the power of the well-connected. Rich vs poor, strong vs. weak – we have seen it all. Pick any law school and there are bound to be a number of Erik’s, Torran’s, Chris’s, and Josh’s. What makes law school struggles different from med school struggles? What do those characters say about us? What does law school say about us? From Bar Boys: nothing new. It has been said that the truly great stories are those that manage to universalize some particular condition or event – one that cuts into who the particular characters in the story are (e.g. law students) to reveal some insight into who they (and, consequently, we) are as human persons.
To be fair, it was only when I was driving home from the movie that I felt it lacked depth. Some clips had their moment of entertainment. I could relate to many of the clips of recitations, readings, and professors, but that was about it. It was akin to being shown a photo album of the years past. But at the end there it was: it was just the other end of the cover – emptiness.
I can think of two movies that might be fun to juxtapose with Bar Boys: Legally Blonde (2001) and The Paper Chase (1973). The latter was a movie recommended to me during my Constitutional Law 2 class with Prof. Pangalangan. Here’s a clip:
Among the themes in the movie was a law student’s relationship with grades. Grades: that touchy topic of law school that provokes a wide array of reactions among law students. We only get a glimpse of that in Bar Boys when Chris gives 5s to his erring classmates or the struggle of Erik to get a passing mark. The ending of the two movies likewise involves a revelation of sorts of one’s grades. In Bar Boys, Erik holds his final grade in a little brown envelope and gives it to Torran to open, who later misleads Erik into thinking he failed when in reality he passed. In The Paper Chase, we find as the camera hovers over the shoulder of the feared Mr. Kingsfield, the final blue exam booklet of Hart gets a 93 with big “A” written on the front. Later on, the scene cuts to a beach were Hart is sitting by a rock with his feet on the sand. He gets a letter with the words “GRADES ENCLOSED” in bold letters. He pauses, and he’s asked, “Aren’t you going to open your grades?” He thinks and then folds the unopened envelope into a paper plane. He climbs a rock and throws the plane into the sea.
Aside from grades, the juxtaposition of Professors Kingsfield and Hernandez is fertile soil for reflection. But I suppose that’s better left for another blog entry.
Just recently while scrolling down my Facebook news feed I came upon a post which got me thinking. It was a livebuzz article about a Brazilian graphic designer and her illustrations concerning women empowerment. Surely, the world is hardly short of feminists these days. I hesitate to claim that it is a fad (wasn’t it a 60s-70s thing?), but it does carry a buzz when a female acquaintance declares, “Yes I’m all for feminism” and then starts giving you a lecture about the equal protection clause and the machinations of The Man. Whether or not the “I’m a feminist” card is a fad or not, its claims have managed to find their way into Facebook, or my feed rather. There are claims more radical that what their authors probably have thought and their rather ubiquitous character only adds to my interest. Here is one illustration:
“You are the only authority of your body and your identity!” The first obstacle is probably the fact that it sounds more like the ravings of a spoiled toddler who refuses to share the toys at the playpen: “MY TOY! MINE! MY RULES!” Children say these things all the time and adults scold them. But what of adults? Well, all we can do is pray and hope that they are open to reason. The illustration was right to highlight four words: YOU, AUTHORITY, BODY, and IDENTITY. All of which are problematic and yet they are all in one sentence, giving us a philosophical quadruple whammy. Well, the first question that stands out is by what authority can you claim that you are the authority of your body and identity? Authority is delegated – a fact that law students are well aware of. Authority is drawn ultimately from the volunté general, God, a supreme being, the Constitution, aliens, wikipedia, or whatever. Law student or not, the fact remains that a taxi driver cannot call on the armed forces of the Philippines to suppress rebellions or whatnot simply because he grants himself the authority to do so. It is only the President since that is provided in the Constitution (but not for traffic), and the Constitution itself draws from the sovereign will of The People, whoever they are. Even in the first level of questions, we get this kind of problem. It’s just like in childhood when all questions starting with “why” end up with the answer of “because I said so!”. Just think of the problems from “You” or “Identity” even “Body”. *shudder*
On another note, it really strikes me as strange to go on and make the same claim as the illustration above. Strange because, like all good efforts at deception, there is a truth in it. Good lies break the truth, great lies bend it. There is a truth, albeit half-baked or deformed, but authentic truth in it nonetheless which renders it so believable. But the focus of this entry is merely the deception – the idea that we can be self-granting authorities. The claim gets thrown around in advertisements, movies, radio, nearly everywhere and we hardly bat an eyelash. A closer look though would give a clue. Nearly all the apps are centered around us – slowly we are writing out own autobiographies and working full time for that matter. The apps are turning us into professional documentary filmmakers of our own lives and by the time we are done, we realize that we hardly had enough time even to view the films of others. “What’s on your mind?” “Compose new tweet.” IG it. A liked your post. B checked in at Z. Maybe in a way the social network was a pandora’s box. A tool of virtually limitless opportunities for connectivity while simultaneously carrying the temptation to center our world on ourselves. Ever see that family across the table in some fancy restaurant all flicking their smartphones? Something like that. Lots of material has already been going around at the (anti)social network but nothing drives home the point like a quiet table over good food.
So how much are we willing to pay for free WiFi? Our social lives? Some already have paid that price. Weird, but that’s the way the world goes these days. Maybe this all adds up to how some people can declare themselves as their own authorities and go doing whatever they want. It is a symptom of vanity and of a creature who was molded in the image and likeness of God. Strange now that I think about it. Wasn’t that the story in Eden?
We are all our parents’ children after all.