Last of a three-part series
The last sentence of yesterday’s Part 2: One post on Facebook has this brag: “Manalo is not meant to make money.” Though it has been bruited about repeatedly that the film has broken box-office records both local and foreign, meaning money is a concern by the film after all, the obvious undertone of that Facebook boast is that “Manalo” is meant for attaining spiritual ends.
This reviewer thus finally addresses this braggadocio head-on. How true is the salvation of which Iglesia Ni Cristo claims monopoly of? All Christian religions without exception preach the Second Coming of Jesus Christ during which he will judge the living and the dead, and bring with him to heaven those he will save. INC proclaims that only those within the true church of Christ – what else but Iglesia Ni Cristo – will be saved.
“Manalo” strikes this reviewer as a grand spectacle for promoting that proclamation. For those outside INC whom it derisively refers to as sanlibutan, the movie must be a vehicle for conversion to the faith. For those already in, it must serve as a consolidating force. Time and again, INC worship sessions are punctuated with announcement of expulsions, betraying dissatisfactions occurring among the flock. Those announcements certainly drive terror into the hearts of the INC members, each time prompting them to stay put.
On the scale of film aesthetics, “Manalo” contributes nothing substantial.
The screenplay is mediocre, making no effort whatsoever at exploring aspects endemic in the cinema for achieving interesting storytelling. The structure is one straight narrative succeeding only at presenting a dry chronology of the events from boyhood to death of the man who built Iglesia Ni Cristo. And the narrative has for its focus the evangelization that is routine in INC worships thereby achieving nothing new as far as film art is concerned. As a consequence, the dialogues sound like a broken record.
The actor playing Manalo deserves commendation for effective acting if the character he plays were a non-human detached from earthly sensitivities. Given the proper situation, his performance rates A, as in that scene where threatened to be shot by Japanese troops who barge in the middle of the service, he goes ahead with his sermon, prompting the Japanese to withdraw. What ruins the scene is the hackneyed emphasis on the soldiers slowly putting their pistols back in their holsters before walking out of the chapel.
Stereotype directorial approach and touches are a main shortcoming of the film, like men drinking in front of a store, hecklers disturbing an indoctrination session, rival preachers intruding in the middle of Manalo’s sermon and getting dignified with argumentation in which he prevails and at which Manalo’s flock nod their heads like mechanical dolls moving at the turn of a key.
Though claiming to be an angel, Felix Manalo hasn’t quite gotten over his human nature. This is obvious from the fact that he falls in love, gets married (in fact twice), has children, provides good home and life for his family. Surely he must have done some little misdeeds which can dramatize his innate humanism. His transformation into a holy man – call it saint, sugo, or whatever – can be a most interesting approach for the director in handling the character of Felix. But no, he appears to be exercising fidelity to the work of one who can afford much schooling in elementary screenwriting. The result, a character which, because it does not develop, is in limbo.
It is fundamental in literature that the development of the story depends upon the development of the main character. What film will you get if its main character does not develop? A static motion picture that, having no beginning, has no end. Felix Y. Manalo begins as a boy, grows up into a man, and dies head of a large religious sect. That’s no story, at best it is a photoplay approximating a scrap book.
A story depicts a man’s struggle to rise above his human weaknesses. All great literature has for its main theme this element in one form or another. A significant development the character of Felix Y Manalo would have taken is his exhausting his human strength to build a church by which to attain salvation for human kind only to stumble upon a Biblical passage that virtually proclaims his salvation gospel a hoax.
Mark 13:30, that passage, states: “Remember that all these things will happen before the people now living have all died.” The “things” referred to in the passage are the Great Tribulation, the Awful Horror that will presage the second coming of Jesus Christ during which he will judge the living and the dead and then bring with him to heaven all those that will deserve salvation. When will the Great Tribulation take place? According to Mark 13:30, “…before the people now living have all died.” And “now” in the passage means two thousand years ago. Even granting a common life span of 100 years for all the people living two thousand years ago, the longest any of the people living then could last up to was in year 100. In other words, the Great Tribulation and the ensuing Judgment Day immediately thereafter should have happened earlier than year 100. But as attested to by “Manalo,” as recent as 1913 Iglesia ni Cristo has been preaching a Judgment Day and salvation that until now are yet to come.
Felix has been preaching wrong!
Finally he is face to face with his ultimate chastisement, Deuteronomy 18:22: “If a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD and what he says does not come true then it is not the LORD’s message. That prophet has spoken on his own authority, and you are not to fear him.”
Is Felix to admit his wrong and undergo a cleansing of spirit by which to correct his mistake? Or keep mum on his discovery of Mark 13:30, as all other Christian churches have been doing, and continue hooking multitudes on the gospel of salvation?
Nothing is shown of course in the movie that Felix does come upon Mark 13:30. But his discovering the verse should be taken as a matter of course. He has not devoted one whole lifetime meticulously studying the Bible for nothing. In all likelihood he has found out about Mark 13:30 but has chosen to ignore it completely. Why? Because without the gospel of Judgment Day and Salvation, no solid rock will be there on which to build an Iglesia Ni Cristo – no need for a sugo to build that church in the last days.
As it is, anchored on believers’ undiminished faith in salvation, Iglesia Ni Cristo has prospered from so lowly beginnings in an obscure village in a backward municipality to a top rung among the major sects worldwide. It is common knowledge that INC exercises enormous influence and power over Philippine economy and politics, with its block vote able to determine the outcome of elections, its grip on the labor-only-contracting system proving a great fetter to the advancement of workers’ welfare.
As to fortunes, these must have grown to such tremendous proportions that the very family which Felix built is now splintered, reportedly wrangling over the matter.
Now, that’s the real story.