She was forced into a chair. She was bound by the wrist. She was surrounded.
Three of them—-two interchangeable white men in suits, and one Tito J. They stood in silence and minded their own business—-their business being D.
She took stock of them. She tested her restraints. She sighed when she found no give.
To the dingy space of the supermarket storage between a crate of children’s toys and for whatever reason an open box of paper tiger masks D asked, “Any of you—-hello? Hello?”
She got no answer.
D frowned and tried at her restraints again and tried calling out again.
“I said hello? I’ll keep doing this until someone does something! Hello hello hello la la la la la—-”
A hard slap across the face. Her beret falling off her head. She went silent.
“Shut the fuck up!”
Then Tito J approached. He put a hand on the suit’s shoulder.
“Hey. How about you just take a seat over there yeah?”
The suit said nothing but moved along. He took to a corner and crossed his arms and stared with black marbled eyes.
Then D said, “I would if I could.”
Tito J turned to her and said, “And you. He isn’t wrong.”
“He isn’t right either!”
The suit flinched and took a step—-Tito J gestured and he took a step back.
Tito J turned back around to D and asked, “What?”
“No one has told me anything about anything. Not last time and not now.”
The suit from before interrupted and said, “You want to know? There are a couple ways this could go.”
“One—-we kill you and then sell you. Two—-we sell you and whoever we sell you to might kill you, might not. It would be at their discretion.”
“Um. Can’t say I’m too enthused about either.”
“Good thing you’re not in a position to say. How’s that for wanting to know?”
He grunted and crossed his arms and kept staring.
D sat and stayed sitting. She looked away from them to Tito J.
Tito J said, “No one’s getting killed here. In the off chance anyone forgot—-I’m still a cop.”
D said, “Yeah. You still are.”
He frowned and said, “You’re disappointed.”
“No. Not disappointed. Laying with pigs and all that.”
“Ouch. Can’t say I’m surprised, so I won’t.”
“Can I ask why?”
“Money’s tight. That’s about all there is to it.”
“Okay. So all that talk about wanting to help me was just what then?”
“Oh. That was all genuine. Believe me when I say you should believe me. It’s just—-it’s just you kept pushing, I gave you multiple chances and you didn’t take any of them and I did have this so—-here we are.”
“Okay. You wouldn’t actually happen to know anything about the Sublime Object would you?”
“I wouldn’t actually, no.”
D nodded slowly. She caught those eyes still staring at her and asked, “Okay. What about him?”
Tito J glanced back at the suit staring daggers in the corner and asked, “What about him?”
“What’s his deal?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anyone’s deal. I’m just here on a job.”
“He looks like he has a deal.”
Tito J shook his head and looked at the other suit leaning against a crate and asked, “Hey. You.”
“You know what his deal is?”
“How the fuck should I know?”
Tito J looked at D and shrugged.
“You want to know what my deal is?”
Everyone looked at the suit.
D said, “It’s why I asked.”
The suit jumped out his seat and straight-lined to D. Tito J stepped to him and he stopped but he was close.
“Your psycho crazy comrade killed my brother, that’s what my deal is!”
D blinked and looked at him and said, “I don’t know who your brother is.”
D blinked and kept looking at him and said, “I don’t know who Bob is.”
“Ah fuck you!”
He raised his arm—-Tito J caught it and said, “Hey. Maybe I didn’t make it clear enough the first time. You got in a lucky hit—-once. You’re not getting lucky again.”
He yanked his arm out of Tito J’s grip. He said, “What the fuck do you know?”
“All I know is we’re staying put until we get orders otherwise.”
The other suit said, “Then when the fuck is Santino getting here?”
Tito J didn’t say anything and then D said, “Oh.”
The other suit said, “What?”
D said, “Oh my god.”
“You didn’t tell them did you Tito J?”
“Not right now D.”
“Not right now what?”
Tito J glanced at the suits. He said, “It’s nothing. Well—-not nothing but—-Santino’s dead.”
“He’s dead. Santino’s dead.”
A brief beat between all of them.
D clenched her jaw until it hurt. Between tight teeth she said something.
The other suit asked, “The hell you mumbling about?”
Then D blew up like a bomb—-she was cackling. Shaking and fighting against the restraints—-hard enough that they loosened somewhat.
The other suit, “Christ.”
Tito J said, “She finally fucking lost it.”
Then the suit jumped and rushed to D. She kept cackling.
He reached to his side and pulled out his gun. The other suit and Tito J jumped and went for theirs. D didn’t stop.
He pointed it at D. They pointed theirs at him. D in the center of a standoff of the Mexican variety.
Between fits D said, “So you do have a real one Tito J!”
He ignored her and kept his sights and his aim on the suit and said, “I’d ask you what the fuck do you think you’re doing—-but I don’t think you’re thinking.”
The suit said, “Give one good reason why I shouldn’t plug that fucking flapping thing she calls a mouth.”
“Because that’s merchandise and you don’t damage merchandise!”
“Fuck that—-she’s caused me too much grief to be worth shit now.”
Between chattering and cackling teeth D said, “Mister—-I don’t even know who you are!”
The other suit said, “Hey! Aren’t we supposed to be fucking professionals? The hell are you losing your cool for?
“Only thing I’ve lost is my patience for this bitch.”
“Fucking goddammit—-just drop the gun, man!”
“I’m not dropping shit until she drops dead. Santino’s fucking dead anyway—-what’s the point in holding onto her? We can find another one—-we can get more than one, just like that. We do it all the time. There’s a reason there’s a market—-because there’s a market.”
Tito J said, “Fucking fine—-but this isn’t about that. This is about you fucking escalating this shit for no fucking reason. You’re willing to kill a kid, shoot her in her fucking face? For what?”
D laughed only harder.
The suit kept his aim right between D’s eyes. The others kept their guns trained on him.
“You’re not getting another warning.”
“Good. Because I’m tired of getting them.”
And then the guns went off.
D closed her eyes shut.
The blasts. The shrieks. All shrill.
D opened her eyes and saw—-
Tito J—-down and out. The other suit—-dead as Dillinger. The suit—-a red trail leading to the box of masks now spilled to the floor and everywhere and then to the door out the storage.
D blinked and shook her head. Unhurt and—-untouched.
She got to her feet. She tugged at the rope. She squirmed her way out and hugged herself.
She snapped her fingers. She shook her head. She recognized the gesture but she could not hear it—-like reading words on a page.
She rubbed an eye and felt it wet. She looked at the other suit. Holes riddled them bloody.
She looked at Tito J. Still breathing but breathing shaky. Holes riddled him bloody.
D slow-walked over and pulse-checked him. A beat. Then another one but slower.
His face—-blank. Sweating. Eyes glazing.
D smiled slightly. D brought out a hand. D caressed his cheek.
Tito J hand reached but went limp.
D pulled her hand back. D put her hand in Tito J’s coat pocket. D pulled out a finger gun.
Tito J closed his eyes and opened them.
She brought her thumb down like a hammer.
Tito J closed his eyes and he did not open them again.
D went to go get her beret and checked her jacket and skirt and then followed the trail of blood.
A philosopher once wrote that ‘Systemic violence is thus something like the notorious ‘dark matter’ of physics’. Let us investigate such dark matter.
‘Manila’ is a 2009 film directed by Raya Martin and Adolfo Alix Jr., written by Adolfo Alix Jr. and Ramon Sarmiento, and produced by and starring Piolo Pascual. A film split into two main stories, day and night, both stories being stark and stylized statements on the city itself, an unblinking look at seedy scenarios and the people forced to navigate through them.
The film opens and ends with style, portrayals of everyday life in the city of Manila, jazz music blaring as if to fight for the foreground. The first story involves William, played by Pascual, who, after escaping from a police raid on a massage parlor, wanders the city in a pensive state, both trying to score some drugs while also hoping to find someone, anyone, who could take those drugs away. The second story centers on Philip, also played by Pascual, who works as a bodyguard for a politician’s son, who is forced on the run after a night on the town goes horribly wrong. Both are poor, both are products and victims of a systemic violence that leaves them with really only two options, sink or struggle until you sink, and all we can do is watch in 16mm black and white, marked with cinematography that is as bleak as it is beautiful.
Several scenes across both stories are made clear in this analysis. William, after failing to score, finds his mother at a hospital, where she is visiting someone else in recovery. His plea to make amends breaks down into tragedy, violently rejected by his own mother over his perceived worthlessness, and escorted out of the building. During this, a man passes them, rushed on a stretcher, bleeding from some other horrific event. There’s a system in place to help the obviously injured man, but the resources to help addicts like William are functionally non-existent. The audience becomes prescient the moment William dries his tears and wanders again into the streets of Manila. The effect is like watching a bus about to plunge off a cliff after the emergency brakes have failed.
The second story is highlighted by Philip’s misplaced faith in his employer Barry and by class struggle. Despite having saved his life after an altercation by a rival gang, the resulting violence causes Barry to cut off from Philip, leaving him only some pesos to hold him over until the morning. Philip is left to fend for himself, unable to go home so as to put his family at risk, and unable to buy himself the kind of protection afforded to someone like his employer. Instead he flees to an even more destitute part of town, where routine police raids complicate matters even more.
The violence that both men are subjected to lay bare the prevailing ideology. The film provides no clear reason for William’s drug addiction, as if to say a reason doesn’t matter, he is a drug addict and must be cast off, as seen in his being rejected by his mother. A system that prioritizes the usefulness of a person to that system will shape the average family’s understanding and handling to anything that undermines such things, in turn affecting any potential institutions for support and creating a culture that perpetuates a continuous downward spiral. Philip, seeing Barry as his ticket out of poverty, maintains his loyalty to a member of the ruling class, despite being called a dog by the film itself, and as such is punished. He gets caught in the police raids and is treated like trash, or in the eyes of the system, as he really is, among others of his own class. Thrown away by Barry, Philip dies his first death, a tragic death, although he doesn’t realize it. His role in the eyes of Barry, a worker to be exploited, has concluded, and only when Philip escapes to the slums and falls into the hands of corrupt police, or rather just police, realizing his real role in things, is he allowed to die his second death, a farcical death. This is but one example of the Hegelian theory of repetition in history.
The film’s structure also reflects this repetition, two main stories, Pascual as both leads. His tragic downward spiral as William, and his farcical hopes being dashed as Philip.
The total of Manila as a film serves to put to light the world around it, the city itself, while centering things with grounded performances. A perfect visual metaphor for the film as a whole would be the crash of a taxicab, framed with a cold distance, with passersby able to do nothing but watch and make comments.
The fight ends. Styx wins out against his attackers. Beaten and bloody all. Still standing, Styx asks once more of D’Angelo’s location. The old men, more interested in their food, decide to give D’Angelo up. Styx warns them, that this isn’t over, though the old men understand that, even if every single one of them were to be wiped out, so long as the system survives, so too will the violence it inherently produces.
Styx turns to leave, stepping over the bodies, leaving the restaurant, wincing and limping along the way.