By Janina Lim |
Most of us have to agree that Philippine cinema is not artistically satisfying today, regardless of whether or not it is compared to its heydays when we had Brocka, Bernal, and their likes. It must be understood then that the tales of the classical masterpieces of the legendary film makers must be told again and again that we may not forget that period when Philippine cinema almost always produced films that were deemed worthy of international recognition. This article aims to give an expounded explanation on the significant scenes of Himala, one of the works Philippine cinema is proud of starred by the great actress, Nora Aunor. And so now starts the telling of the tale of one of Philippine cinemas’ most valued treasure.
A profound work dwelling on from the falling short of mankind in the stability of their faith to the commercialization of religion to patriarchal societies, Himala exposes the weakness of people to events or acts contrary to the laws of nature; supposed to be workings of God. In this film, however, it is not the hands of God that operate the miracles but of the Virgin Mary of which insinuates the idea of polytheism and the endeavor of women to escape male dominance.
The movie was set on the town of Cupang, a drought-stricken, impoverished town in the Philippines, believed to be cursed after its intolerant townspeople have driven away a leper years ago, an implication of their superstitious philosophies.
During an eclipse, one of the residents of the town, Elsa, claims to witness apparitions of the Virgin Mary. She subsequently becomes not only a renowned healer in Cupang but also a subject of mystery attracting foreigners, tourists, media, and even the influential personalities of the country. This includes a director, who does not believe in God, attempting to create a film out of the events he plans to document. In his conversation with Elsa, a discussion between the similarity of God and camera surfaced in which the director says that the camera never lies. With the rape incident of Elsa and Nimia captured in the lens of the camera, the audience will be able to get a glimpse of the truth which Elsa will later deny and alter. The director gets to interview a lot of people surrounding Elsa, one of which is Nimia.
From being a prostitute in Manila, Nimia, erstwhile a close friend of Elsa before being denied by the latter when society was ostracizing her of being pregnant out of wedlock, returned to Cupang where she puts up a cabaret for a business. When the cabaret was forced to be closed as requested by Elsa’s disciples, Nimia approaches Elsa to discuss the prospects of the cabaret. In their conversation, Nimia compares Elsa’s miraculous performances and the performances in the cabarets as similar acts of prostitution. Nimia, though condemned for her liberality and inappropriateness as a woman, is shown to be in contrast with the hypocrites when in the end she remained a friend to Elsa, notwithstanding what the latter has done to her years back. Shown as a parallel of Elsa in terms of “prostitution”, Nimia, from time to time, also performs tricks in the movie wherein she magically makes a cigarette appear from her hand, suggesting that Elsa also has an act of deceit being performed.
Elsa acquired regular company of people who are regarded as her disciples. One of these apostles manifested to be the most passionate in serving Elsa, Chayong, will ironically be a victim of rape while accompanying Elsa to the hill, emphasizing the protagonist’s weakness as a human when the latter was incapable of saving Chayong from having her cherished virginity taken away by outlaws. Resisting to be soothed by divine therapy, Chayong then hangs herself, an event in the film from which we can draw the impression that her faith was also not firm enough to have given up on life.
The people, beginning to be in doubts of Elsa’s miracles as triggered by the controversy behind Chayong’s death, becomes more perturbed when an epidemic malaria breaks out in the town of Cupang, causing numerous deaths. The funeral procession did not merely commemorate the fatalities in the town but also the end of a short-lived passion of a religion supported but by miracles. Same were the intentions of showing the performance of a superstitious ritual of dropping a pot during the funeral and the church, which was almost empty at the height of Elsa’s fame in the early parts of the movie, being filled again by people.
An old man, however, acts as a prophet in Cupang, predicting that it is not the end for the show of miracles. The purpose of the prophet also serves as another belief in which the people rely on.
Elsa was soon discovered to be pregnant, an allusion to Mary who gave birth a virgin. Rain poured out, signifying yet a shower of blessings. The outpour can also be a miracle in ending the drought in the town as believed to have been caused by the curse.
Elsa’s mysterious facade kept the audience thinking as to whether the miracles were indeed true. But it is in the subtlest scenes of which a passive viewer might overlook that hides the truth: that Elsa was just taking us along in her fantasies. This statement can be corroborated by the conversation between the director and Nimia in which the latter revealed Elsa’s ambitiousness and wide imagination. Elsa bursting into tears in the midst of her healing session, Elsa’s refusal for being paid for the bottles of water she has made “holy” – these imply guilt. And why else would a person be haunted by guilt aside from being conscious of the impact his or her wrongdoings are producing?
When asked by the photo-journalist why the Virgin Mary is at work in these miracles and not Jesus Christ, Elsa simply answered, “Lumipas na ang ama. Panahon naman ng ina.” This insinuates the side of Elsa in an attempt to break out from the patriarchal world she dwells in.
Undeterred by doubts of people, mostly men – the shaman, the parish priest, the photo-journalist, and Chayong’s brother and her lover— and society’s rule on the purpose of women to be an ideal wife as implied from the sermon she received from her mother, noticing her maiden status at the age of 24, Elsa persists on her miracles, emanating the characteristics of the Virgin Mary within her, pure and obedient.
Another feministic character in the film, Nimia, represents as Elsa’s foil or complete opposite. Nimia’s return to Cupang, coincided at a time Elsa was performing miracles in the town, shows her brazenness to face the people who have condemned her on account of getting pregnant out of wedlock. Notice that she was an outcast, while the man she had sexual intercourse with was absolved from the wrath of society. Nimia can also serve as a shadow of Elsa as shown in a scene where the former danced with children in darkened forms because as shadowed by the orange light from the sun.
The two women served a dichotomy of the two most discussed women of the Bible—Eve and the Virgin Mary. In the movie, both women is exhibited trying to erupt from the “world of men”– Nimia returning to Cupang to defy the role of a victim of the society and Elsa disregarding men’s opinions on her miracles.
The attempt, though, was unsuccessful as Nimia returned to Manila and with Elsa’s announcement which was cut-off by a gunshot aimed at her right chest, giving her the same wounds the Virgin Mary had when she claimed to have seen her during the eclipse. There is also a virile hint in having killed Elsa with a gun.
In Elsa’s public declaration, she revealed the non-existence of a miracle. Perhaps in the prospects of gender equality in the world, there is no such miracle.
Famous line and camera work
“Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng bawat tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga sumpa at ng mga diyos…”
Though there was a truth in it as proven from her act in which has tricked many people, the line was a beautiful way for Elsa to cover her errors. What was supposed to be a public apology became a sermon. However, it is not clearly stated as to whether we create the miracles through our imaginative minds or through the strength of our faith.
This speech of Elsa was cut off when she was shot through the right side of her chest. She was left staring at the sky, as though wanting to convey a message to the Heavens. The gun that shot Elsa was positioned from the audience’s view, suggesting that it is the audience who has shot her because perhaps she had to die for her deceptions.
A stampede ensued after the gunshot fired. The crowds brought Elsa to the waiting ambulance by means of carrying her in a crucifix position. This, along with the many other elements in the story, accomplishes to convey the message in which we ourselves make our own gods.At the end, there remained people who placed their faith in Elsa notwithstanding her confession just a while back, even having the possibility of Elsa being canonized as a saint.
The film, in general, portrayed the ordeals of a third world country living in ignorance and passivity, and the sacrifices a woman has to endure in a androcentric world.