My rating: 4 of 5
WARNING: (Indirect) spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
I initially thought that Citizen Jake was esoteric given the impression that getting insight from the film would need some political context. It is now I only realise that anyone with an open mind can engross himself/herself in the movie’s political depth.
The film starts with a metafictional introduction, most probably to remind its viewers that, in the end, it is just a story. Jake Herrera, the protagonist, begins his narration in a rather bleak room—introducing himself first. He is not your ordinary citizen. Ironically, he is a freelance journalist who looks into the corruption within the Philippine government, but is more often regarded as the son of the powerful Senator Jacob Herrera. Immediately, he gives the impression that he is trying to stray away from his family which he considers as corrupt and dishonourable. Throughout the entire film, Jake keeps running away from his family, who tracks every bit of his actions, and their dirty laundry, and it is clearly implied that he only communicates to them whenever he needs answers for either himself or his work. The narrative’s cohesiveness relies on the death of Grace, his lover’s (Mandy) student and friend. From there on, the death is investigated (occasionally at first), but his family continues to intervene with his life, and through that, the depth of the film emerges.
Contemporary politics is the central theme of the film—it glares at your face and speaks of the director’s “truth”. The Marcoses, corruption in the government, and hypocrisy within the officials are the common subjects, but viewers are always exposed to the dirty laundry of Jake’s family and other government officials. This is composed of their self-interested, ruthless intentions that exhibit misconduct such as killings and prostitution. It is clear that De Leon tries to make a statement indiscreetly, though it doesn’t cross the line of dropping names. As such, the film is a manifestation of the political situation of the Philippines now, like “Noli Me Tangere” during Rizal’s time.
Also presented was the role of media, particularly of journalism, by showing the nature of Jake’s work. It shows that, usually, credibility is achieved when you have a strong personal background. Jake, however, gives the impression that he writes only what will fulfil his desires, such as ruining his father’s reputation—using his blog as a threat. This also shows just how family isn’t always the strongest relationship one can achieve, so Jake puts his trust to his caretakers and their son, but he is soon slapped by the reality of the relationship between those of different social classes. He also realises that everything goes back to his father, and with everything that is happening to him at the same time, he soon experiences a strong turmoil that leads him to become what he is against at in the first place—corrupt. There is no justice with the crime he does in the end.
The profundity and voice of the film stand up for it and prove itself to be a significant masterpiece in this day and age, not to mention the cinematic elements that contribute to the film as an art form. It speaks to your political consciousness and gauges how much you have of it. It is also worth noting that, despite lasting for 2 hours, anyone can easily invest himself/herself to the film and not find it dragging. The complexity of it all prove to be simple–politics is supposed to meddle with your life.
Unfortunately, the film appears to be one-sided—the perspective of the protagonist is given a spectrum whereas the others are given a dichotomy—they are either good or bad, and the film urges you to choose the latter. Consequently, most of the characters other than Jake aren’t as three-dimensional as he is; all-throughout the movie, government officials are portrayed as the enemies. Perhaps these characters could have been given more attention that is less biased.
Regardless, the film is brave enough to speak of the director’s truth and compel its viewers to realise it. De Leon urges us to break the silence and do something about the oppressors, and perceiving it is the first step.