Thursday, December 06, 2012

Movie Review: 'Himala' and Filipino Confirmation Bias

Some rambling thoughts after watching the digitally restored and remastered film, “Himala”:

It’s called confirmation bias, this very human tendency to hear only that which fortifies what one believes in and to dismiss everything else that contradicts it. I’m sure we are all guilty of it in one form or another, some more than others. In the movie, many remember the legendary Nora Aunor as the prophetess Elsa telling her followers:

Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala! (There is no miracle! Miracles are in the hearts of the people! We are the ones who create miracles!)

With these lines, Elsa seems to say that God works through us. This is an acceptable message for the largely religious Filipino people. Acceptable enough that it became a blockbuster in 1982 after (deservingly) winning a sackful of awards. Acceptable enough to be aired during the Lenten Season as if it was a religious film instead of a film about religion. Acceptable enough to be (again, deservingly) called the greatest Filipino film. But I’ve always wondered if, unlike the tragic Elsa, screenwriter Ricky Lee and director Ishmael Bernal got away with the real, more subversive message because of Filipino confirmation bias. After all, most of us forget the rest of Elsa’s lines:

Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga diyos! (We are the ones who create curses and gods!)

Finding myself sitting beside the man in the theater, I didn’t feel bold enough to ask Ricky Lee if he’s atheist or agnostic or agnostic atheist (sticking labels on unbelief is sometimes confusing, I know). At least, I didn’t feel that it mattered.

What I think I’m trying to say is I would probably cut my own arm off if it meant I could write something as stunningly brilliant as “Himala”.

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