All the strings are pulled tight on this one. Great balance between the pace of unfolding events and the exploration of the main character. There is a complex personal crisis for the main character that is woven together with a larger, more global crisis that unfolds and depends upon powerlessness of characters that come and go in the film. The villain is a disembodied voice – a demonic one – that never wavers from its purpose. And yet the success of its systematic mission depend upon the choices of the characters that are pulled into these missions.
The voice on the phone belongs to an omniscient force that is supernatural enough to place objects along the path just where and when the main character will require them in order to be pulled forward. It sees the main character’s every move, and seems able to anticipate Adam’s thoughts and actions.
The main character is not powerless (he smokes cigarettes against the will of the villain and almost chooses to stay in the church), and yet, we see and feel the gravity of the inevitable choices he makes and the way he fights against what seems to be the inevitable outcome.
So this film has a Hollywood-like plot scenario, and yet we are pulled along not just by the question “what will happen?” but also by other questions:
- How will this character’s personal crisis back home in the U.S. affect the decisions he will make in Cavite?
- What kind of person is this?
- What can we find out about this character (and about ourselves) by HOW he navigates the many emotional, physical, and idealogical pulls?
- Will he succeed in breaking out of the bondage of his situation where his father failed?
- Will he make the same decision his father made to stay next to the bomb he has been forced to place?
- What would a positive outcome look like?
- If heroism is not a possibility, then what IS possible?
The film is not over when he comes back to the U.S. He continues to be pulled toward a militant center of the religion that he has been hovering on the edges of. By the villain, and by his former girlfriend. She does not want to bring a Muslim into the world – pushing him further into a category that he has both chosen and not chosen.
Perhaps, at some level, he sees the sacrifice of the people in the church as justifyable – and it is not merely the survival of his family that is tipping the balance in his decision to place the bomb.
He has become something different because of the poverty he has seen and heard and smelled and tasted (the egg) and touched (placing a bomb). He has changed because of his choices, but he has also been molded into something he does not understand by the choices of others. His faith in free will (or in his words “bettering himself”) is shattered in the end. His prayer even seems to be pulled from him as he drifts off to sleep rather than something he turns to out of passion. He lets the prayer come.