Two Ways of Alienation

on TBA’s I’m Drunk, I Love You

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Mark Fisher, in 2009, stated: the pervading notion that the success of capitalism is set in-stone – granted by the failure of USSR to sustain its socialist-construction economy leading to its apparent fall back in 1989 (along with Fukuyama’s declaration of the end of history) –  continues to prevail and is now presenting itself as the only realistic political-economic system that there will be, despite the crisis of 2008. He calls this Capitalist Realism. Seeping through our daily lives posing as “nature of things,” is this notion that to get through the daily struggles, one must exchange one’s time and skill for a certain rate not necessarily for one’s own gain, but enough to sustain our needs and desire. This, in return, validates and enforces the following notion: that work is exhausting and draining and therefore, something to escape: who you are, then, is outside of what you do. Capitalist realism also enforces a certain kind of essentialism: since a person can’t be identified with his work, it must be in leisure time that one’s identity is to be known. In the little details, in their feelings, in the time of non-work, is where you are to be found.

In an earlier essay by Edel Garcellano (2001), he pointed out that what Fisher described as Capitalist realism necessarily governs the rules (of the game, of engagement, and even the lines of resistance) of what is being produced in literary works (and the dominant way of reading/interpreting texts) in this country after 1989: Capitalist Realism as the hermeneutics of our time. It is in the same lens of “an impossibility of thinking of any alternative” that I’m Drunk, I Love You was told. In the film, we follow a Film student, Dio (Paolo Avelino), and a social work and development student, Carson (Maja Salvador), on their getaway in La Union days before their graduation ceremonies. The film is strategically set at a time when we cannot observe who the characters say they are. We were never really given any plot points about them being the students. Never a visual cue, it requires a certain faith from the audience that they will believe that to whatever or whoever the characters say they identify with is true. The identification of the characters relied heavily on the verbal exchanges.

Not much is given about who the characters are in a material sense. We are not given an introduction of their concrete lives. The film was set up to avoid such. As mentioned earlier, the film focuses on a leisure time – a time when their labor is at rest. We see the characters merrily chatting and getting intoxicated. But this minor space in their lives is where the film situates its characters as their sole source of truth. We can only rely on what they are talking about on hints about their lives: their struggles, their concerns, their achievements or the lack of it. The film is not concerned about them being the kind of students they say they are. The film is more concerned about the feelings the characters may have on each other, and what would be the effect of these feelings on their connections. The film’s conflict revolves around Carson’s hesitance over whether or not she would tell Dio about her feelings towards him. Dio has the same dilemma over Pathy (Jasmin Curtis-Smith), an ex-partner who looks to fix their old relationship.

All of the information about the characters are relayed through and depended on their verbal exchanges. This narrative technique places a more natural sense of spectatorship: that you, as an audience-spectator, are a stranger. Although there are attempts to win your sympathy due to their concerns, the set-up remains as such that none of the larger portion of their lives are any of your business. The wall has been built between you and the film by not having seen the way they perform their supposed identities. But faith is being placed on you to react accordingly on every song, mood plays, and every hugot lines.

Alienation works in two ways in this film for the characters. First, is the alienation of their labor by privileging their leisure time over their labor-time. It has been established in the film that the relationship the characters had were founded not in the commonality of their relations in labor-production, but of their relations on commodities they could have access at and consume. They are oblivious of the fact that what they are as friends and companions are merely founded on items of which perceived exclusivity to access is the key: music gigs, local cuisine, corporate events posing as cultural festivals; relationships founded on safety nets, safe spaces and comfort food. Relationships which are founded from the exploits of their dead labor.

Second, is the characters’ alienation to their own mental faculties. It is interesting that its characters, especially Carson, tend to blurt out their kept wishes verbally as if their brains can no longer hold them. There are two scenes with Carson: first, when she woke up next to Dio, she mumbled about how beautiful a scene it was; second, was when before they leave La Union, Pathy went out for the loo, Carson took a few steps back and whispered her wish for Pathy not to come back too soon. There is probably a reason to this. There really might be too much stress in Carson’s brain that it cannot contain a moment’s wish and instantly displace it verbally. But since we are not given a chance to take a peek on her life, we can only assume things.

What I’m Drunk, I Love You succeeded the most is its conversion of the communicative feature of the cinematic medium into a merely transactional one: a complete privatization of the cinematic space of which none of the preceding events nor histories relating to the building-up of identities of the characters presented in the film really matter except those which are built on non-productive times (a feature not really exclusive with this film, but the intensity of the extension of the private space in this film is quite remarkable). In a scene where Jason Ty (Dominic Roco) plays a game with Carson to remember an act she did for Dio on each year they have known each other, what we are being presented is not much of a history which moves in progression. If anything passes as history at all, it is only that these recollections were supplied with given dates. A posture of empty empiricism, it is nothing but a quiz bee anyway.

I’m Drunk, I Love You is not a symptom, but a complete manifestation of the dominating notion of this celebratory neoliberal defeatism to capital. The formula is complete: rampant consumerism and commodification as a way of validating one’s self (remember that small conversation wherein they choose to talk about being featured at Young Star as a benchmark of a young artists’ success?) which results to a person’s alienation from labor (which denies us the concrete history of each character) and from his own psyche (paraphrasing Fisher, how does it become acceptable that Carson is this mentally dysfunctional?).

Being a Capitalist Realist film, I’m Drunk, I Love You is incapable of imagining an exit plan or an alternative from the whole system which governs Dio and Carson. As a result of its complex relation to the ruling economic and class structures, the film also tends to convert the Capitalist Realist un-imaginativeness to its own form. The end may seem to be open, but this is exactly is its limit of articulation: that it can’t imagine anything but an open end. The film’s open-endedness is not an invitation for any more speculation nor does not serve to be a nuanced one. It’s an ending which is just served “as it is”: as a sign, in case we forget that their lives are not our business.

 

References:

Fisher, Mark (2009). Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?. London: Zero Books.

Garcellano, Edel (2001). Philippine Hermeneutics: Kingpins of the Hill. In Knife’s Edge: Selected Essays. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press.