Redefining Heroism: A Review Of 'Goyo, Ang Batang Heneral'
Coming after Heneral Luna, the new Jerrold Tarog film, Goyo, Ang Batang Heneral, once again plays revisionist history lesson; challenging us to revisit our notions of heroism and nationalism, while re-examining the reasons we’ve elevated certain historical figures on the pedestal of national hero. It’s a tall order, and unlike Luna, which played out like a testosterone-fueled adventure, where Juan Luna was portrayed in bombastic caricature; this Gregorio Del Pilar has a quieter mien, a more complex disposition.
As refracted through the screenplay, Tarog’s direction, and lead star Paulo Avelino’s attack, we are given a number of Goyo personas to consider. Was he some 1899 chick-boy out to romance the revolution, or was he merely Emilio Aguinaldo’s personal attack dog? Was he a victim of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before it was even recognized and called that by military doctors, or was he some chump hero by default—whose early military exploits, young age, and early death garnered him a free pass to have his face adorn some Peso-bill denomination? It would seem the producers would have us say "yes" to all the aforementioned queries and make us think hard as to whether his death rates as martyrdom or hero status.
Interesting that preciously balanced in the film’s exposition is to also have us reconsider the status of Emilio Aguinaldo, and this I found rather surprising. The film is as much about Aguinaldo as it is about Del Pilar. And Mon Confiado’s Aguinaldo is itself a great demonstration of inner steel and grace, while innuendoes fly all around his head, practically turning him into the villain of the screenplay.
Tarog’s trademark use of shafts of humor in the most unexpected of scenes is again on display in Goyo. During one of the early Tirad Pass sequences, one Filipino revolutionary suddenly jumps up, slapping at his crotch, with an Ants In The Pants situation. And I appreciate that this was one of the reasons Luna was so successful, how slapstick and kenkoy humor would help alleviate the tension or put things in comic relief.
From the outset, the producers and Tarog acknowledge that they are not after historical accuracy. Rather, they are challenging the status quo and asking us to redefine Filipino heroism. The words and thoughts attributed to Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon) and the young assistant photographer Joven (Arron Villaflor) are the best indicators of where their sentiments lie—that the Filipino sense of nationalism and sovereignty is like that of children playing with such grand notions—and whether there has truly been any change between 1899 and the present day would seem to be the burning question left for us to answer.
Lead images from Goyo Ang Batang Heneral's official Facebook page