Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan: Who won the misery contest?

Jessica Zafra posed this question on her blog: Which of the characters in the Lav Diaz film Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte, The End of History) is the most miserable—Fabian, Joaquin, or Eliza?

Is it the movie’s Raskolnikov and plot catalyst, Fabian, who may be evil incarnate? Is it Joaquin who was wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to life in Bilibid? Or is it Eliza, Joaquin’s wife, who almost killed herself and their children out of despair?

Fabian killing Magda, the moneylender in Fabian and Joaquin’s small town, and her daughter reminded me of Dumbledore’s quote about murder: “Killing is not nearly so easy as the innocent believe.” We saw Fabian manifest his inner turmoil throughout the film. He is miserable, but it’s misery caused by his guilt. In the end, Fabian would have probably found a way intellectualize his misery, and may even find it noble.

Eliza leads the most normal life among the three. Normal in the sense that she lives with her family, works, and deals with everyday problems. Her life is far from easy after Joaquin’s imprisonment. But unlike Fabian and Joaquin, she has something to live for. Eliza still believes that she is in control of her fate, no matter how hard it has been. And Eliza is not alone in this world unlike Fabian.

“We don’t have a hold of our lives,” says Joaquin’s fellow inmate. Joaquin is the most miserable because his hope for a better life depends upon the judgment of other people. Joaquin couldn’t have avoided getting his leg injured, but he could’ve avoided the things he did after, specifically, going to Magda and appealing  to her non-existent heart. He could’ve controlled himself and not have strangled the bitch. He could’ve chosen not to run away and face the consequences of his actions instead. These choices must haunt Joaquin when he’s locked in his cell. He is spending his days with the most hopeless people and—if they shot Joaquin’s scenes at the real Bilibid prison—in a dreadful environment. He also has nothing to distract him from the world he lives in, except making those small Christmas lanterns that Eliza loves.

Joaquin is the most miserable character because he is the person who hopes with the least possible chances of that hope coming true.

Norte screenings are extended until September 23. You can watch this world-class film at Trinoma, 12:10 pm and Glorietta, 12:30 pm.

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