The P word

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Principles of Heneral Luna


When Philippine History lessons are taught to students, a lot of emphasis is given to memorizing dates and names of people, but not much on what happened to them. Sometimes “facts” get twisted into indirect or half-truths, such as “Lapu-Lapu Killed Magellan”, or how the Philippine-American war was sparked by an incident involving some drunken sentries. All these “heroes” are also given a glorified reputation, that some forget that they’re just people serving the country to the best of their interpretation of what serving the country really is.

There will always be personal biases, and lots of politics involved. The Magdiwang and Magdalo factions of the Katipunan proved just that. The promising revolutionary army crumbled and failed because of infighting and political rivalry involving Caviteños and other Tagalogs. This was also very evident in the film “Heneral Luna”, where the soldiers explicitly stated that they would only take orders from the president (Emilio Aguinaldo, a Caviteño) or other Caviteño officers, but not from General Antonio Luna, who was the commander of the Philippine Revolutionary Army.

The movie is a work of fiction based on facts, as the dramatically honest introduction says. That in order to paint the truth about what happened, we must combine the real and imaginary. As to which parts of the movie are fact, and which ones are made up, there is a gradient of grey. However, a number of online resources (, for one) provide us a glimpse into the personal side of our “heroic leaders” enough to make educated guesses about which to believe.

But then again, this movie is not about choosing sides, but showing that it is what caused the failure of the revolution in the first place. The one person who tried to see past personal preference for the sake of a united resistance was General Luna. It was this mindset that ultimately led to his demise, as he stepped on a lot of toes through his unpopular actions. The movie actually paints a very human picture of the passionate general, a side of him that is only talked about in Philippine History classes in college, depending on which professor taught the subject.

I think among all the period films of the revolution so far, (about Aguinaldo, Bonifacio, Antonio Luna), this was the most real. This could, again, be personal bias talking, but when I was watching the movie, I did not feel like a mere spectator. I felt a common struggle with the General. Aside from also having a volatile temper (though time has helped me take this down a bit), I also make unpopular decisions based on principle. From those choices, I get flak from friends and family, who claim “Everyone’s doing it, anyway”, or “Di ka naman nakikisama (Can’t you just play along?)”.

Aside from relating to the protagonist, a number of elements of the film actually got me to applaud (literally, at the rolling of the credits), which I found weird because nobody was physically there to applaud, but what they hey, right? Let me list some of the reasons:

  1. Humor – Normally, period films such as this involve serious and dramatic portrayal of the protagonist. In this case, humour was injected perfectly to ease the blow of the unjust assassination (Not a spoiler, read your books). It also helped in showing the human side of Luna, as he would kid around with his subordinates. He would also kid around as to how being a member of the Luna Family gets you into trouble involving a woman. This would be in reference to how he and Dr. Rizal almost got into a duel because of a woman, and also the dark part of his brother Juan’s life.
  2. Poetry – The lines themselves spoken by the characters, especially the General, were nothing short of poetic. One line in particular struck me. Luna bursts out in the middle of a heated discussion: “Para kayong mga birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng sang puta! (You’re like virgins that believe in the love of a whore!)”. Throughout the film, the characters, and Luna himself, would speak this way, even lifting from the general’s poems of past.
  3. Guitar Scene – To avoid spoiling the experience for anyone, I will just say that as someone who appreciates music, especially live and organic music, that scene was definitely one of the highlights of the film. Whether or not Luna could really play like that remains unclear to me, but it provided another side of the hero to me.Together with his poetic side, this showed me the Artistic Luna in the general, aside from being a brilliant military strategist and a hot-headed individual.Parisian Life
  4. Luna Connection – Though indirectly, Juan Luna (the more famous brother) makes appearances throughout the film. I believe this was to establish the closeness of the siblings, as explained somewhere in the movie. What really caught my eye was the depiction of the “Parisian Life” with Dr. Rizal and Dr. Lin (the original owner of the painting), showing the three off-center discussing matters unknown inside a cafe in Paris, as the painting focuses on a lovely young girl whose position while seated depicts a mirror image of the Philippine Map. I see this almost every week as I tour my students to the National Museum. Of course, there is also a lovely easter egg of the painter’s bigger, more renowned masterpiece, but I won’t tell you where.
  5. Luna-cy : a play on the family name reveals a glimpse of the reputation of not just the General, but the Luna brothers. Because Juan Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law, and because of the General’s volcanic temper, the Luna brothers reputation has been tarnished. With one antagonist explicitly saying they were a bunch of lunatics, a number of shots of the moon in full have been inserted into the cinematic sequences to play on that monicker.
It is very difficult to talk more about the movie without actually giving away important plot points. Although, most of these would not actually be spoiled, since history books and informal historical discussions with professors and other history buffs already talk about these, I would still rather have you and the rest of the readers, watch the film for yourself.

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This entry was posted on September 14, 2015 by and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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