I was in high school when I first heard about ‘The Natural Phenomenon of Madness’, award-winning editor Charliebebs Gohetia’s sophomore film. I remember critics having mixed opinions about it; Pinoy Rebyu collated the reviews and the verdict was “to proceed with caution”. Nonetheless, the synopsis intrigued me enough that when I went to the 2nd floor of the UP College of Mass Communication Library for my #FilipinoFilmFridays (I’m making that a thing), I decided to spend my afternoon watching the film (the UP CMC has a copy; they are that awesome).
The film tells the story of the woman (Opaline Santos) and her rapist (Jess Mendoza). Set two years after the incident, they meet. The rapist is dying of leukemia and needs the help of the woman to donate blood. They meet a few more times after The film gives the two different perspectives, how they both pick up the pieces of their lives after the incident.
Watching the film, I’ve felt that I’m solving a puzzle. For most parts, nothing is really narrated directly. There are clues, missing parts that randomly appear as the viewer tries to make them be part of the bigger picture. At first, you just know that it is told in the point of view of the woman, with the assumption that later in the film, you will be able to see the other side. The film introduces minor characters–the rapist’s ex-girlfriend or the gay couple–but they are not meant to matter in the film. They are irrelevant; mostly just there to give us clues of what this confusion is all about.
Because The Natural Phenomenon of Madness is about the woman and her rapist. The woman is a victim, shattered, unable to love. She could not manifest a black-and-white kind of loathing; her hatred is only rooted from the fact that she is in love with that man that destroyed her. In her perspective, it is the rapist that gives the effort. The man needs something from her, but in her POV, it does not feel like the man is using her. She knows that the man is sorry. And as she opens up himself more to him in their next meetups, you can feel her heart soften.
The rapist’s perspective is different. She knows that the woman is destroyed, but he does not know to what extent. In every conversation, it is the woman who talks more, and it is the man who leaves first, as if the blame on rape is negotiable. He knows, to a degree, that what he did to the woman is not right, but his Church confession reveals that a part of him finds his act justifiable. As a viewer, you cannot fully hate him. The victim does not loathe him completely; she has a soft spot for him. And we do, too, because he is also broken and he does not represent the image of our stereotypical rapist–macho, overly confident and totally unapologetic.
The film is too long, running for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. It could be because of the seemingly redundant narration of the same events told in two different perspectives, although I think it worked for the essence of fleshing out the character’s motivations. I believe though that some of the scenes are too stretched. The interior and exterior shots, sometimes accompanied by voice overs (of the Church) in the background, might want to convey the emptiness and loss of these characters with an ironic religious undertone, but they feel so slow and foreign with the black-and-white visual gimmick of the film.
I have reservations towards the ending. I love it in the sense that it surprised me and did not see it coming (ala ‘The Sixth Sense’). That when the credits rolled, I had to pause for a while and ask myself if there were hints (and there were). But at the same time, it might have reduced the film to that ending from the complex and beautiful mess that was the whole story. Nonetheless, I believe that Gohetia’s ‘The Natural Phenomenon of Madness’ is a big puzzle that is never meant to be solved or completed. There are parts that fit and make the film coherent, and the parts left unresolved are meant to be pondered upon.