I finally got to watch the film Oliver Twist directed by Roman Polanski. The critics were right in saying that it is the best adaptation of the classic novel by Charles Dickens. You won’t find it in the cinemas today or in the new release DVDs because the film was released in 2006. It is one of those films that I have to tick off from my list of 1001 Movies I must see before I die.
Oliver Twist is the story of an orphan boy who stumbles from one sad or terrible situation to another. The first scene shows Oliver being led into a workhouse to join the dozens of underpaid and underfed child laborers. It wasn’t long before Oliver gets in trouble and finds himself kicked out of the workhouse, all for asking for a second serving of the measly portion they get during meal times. His second gig is with an undertaker where he receives an unfair flogging. He then decides to run away to the nearest city, London — a 70 mile journey he took on foot in seven days. Upon his arrival in London, he is befriended by a pickpocket and brought to a safe house run by professional crooks. Although he is grateful for the kind gestures of the gang’s coach, he didn’t have the stomach for the life of crime. While roaming the streets of London with his new urchin friends, Oliver gets mistaken for a pickpocket and is chased down by an angry mob. Fortunately he is found innocent by the magistrate when a witness at the scene of the crime testifies in his favor. The pickpocket victim, a wealthy man, takes pity on him and saves him from a life of wretched existence.
As I sat through the movie and took in the scenes of Dickensian destitution, I couldn’t help but be reminded of our country and the plight of the poor. The film is set in 19th century London and the scenery is pretty much the same as what you can see in some parts of Manila, Luzon or the Northern part of the Philippines nowadays, that is, if you are not in the mall or do not live in one of those gated communities spared by typhoon Ondoy. There’s mud on the side streets, pot holes on the main roads, lots of beggars and vagrants milling about, and disorderly conduct all around town. It’s like time has forgotten us and what little progress was gained in the last two to three decades was blown away by the typhoon within a few days.
I would attribute Oliver’s triumph in the end less to good luck and more to his unwavering adherence to his principles. He was welcomed by a group of hardened petty criminals and yet managed to win the fight for what is right and decent. There was a famous line in the film where he begs to ask for another serving of the meal and says “Please sir, I want some more?” The dining hall master outraged at the request chases him around with a stick.
There is much we can learn from such a symbolic scene. We could all be like Oliver and start asking more of ourselves, our fellow countrymen, our government officials and most especially our presidential candidates for the coming 2010 elections. There is a risk that in our asking for more, some might react with outrage because they are not used to having their views or practices questioned, probed, or challenged. The possibility of receiving such reactions should not stop us from seeking answers to our questions. Filipinos have for so long been apathetic, like the rest of the child laborers in the film — resigned to their fate. Yes, we as a people have had our glorious moments where we went out onto the streets and rallied for the resignation or ousting of a corrupt president or two. But in light of the sort of challenges we face today, this behavior comes across as so 19th century.
The more civilized way of asking for more is to start questioning ourselves. Let us look deeper into our souls and try to find out what it is that we want for ourselves, for our fellowmen, and for our country. Once we know the answer to that, we should start insisting that we get it. Someone said to me that Filipinos are simple people lacking in ambition, which is why we remain the way we are now. In my opinion, wanting to be able to afford nutritious meals during the day, a reasonable house, decent clothes and quality time with family and friends is not being ambitious. These are basic human needs befitting a 21st century people. As we enter the second decade of the 21st Century, we find that millions of Filipinos still do not have access to these basic human needs.
In 2010, we have the chance to lay the groundwork for change by speaking up and demanding we get to know our candidates first before we head to the polls. We’ve always had the freedom to choose our leaders, but we habitually take the easiest and most traditional paths, like choosing someone who is “winnable” or someone whose families we have known for years. Why do we do this? Are we nostalgic? Are we romantic? Are we lazy? Are we scared? I’m not sure about the answer to those questions but at the moment, I can see a lot of people who are clinging to one particular name they will likely tick on the ballot sheet. They don’t seem to care if this candidate has no platform or concrete plans for the future of our nation. Yet they have decided that he is the one to lead our country in the next six years because he is the son of two of the Philippines’ most beloved historical figures.
Should we ask for more or should we be resigned to accepting the empty proposition of this popular candidate? In my opinion, we need to be more vigilant and more demanding in choosing our leaders. It is our future that’s at stake. This is our chance to be like Oliver Twist. We should speak up and ask for more.