By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento

Movie Review
Directed by Pam Miras

PAM MIRAS’s psychologically complex film Medusae draws upon women as mothers and creators, riven by the demands of raising children and working for a living. There is a painful absurdity in the double bind which the mother Alpha (Desiree del Valle) and child Luny (Carl Palaganas) find themselves in. Their names have the just-so silliness of fairy tale or fabulary characters. This film is not meant to be real the way real life supposedly is.

The boy Luny, was named for Luneta where his mother met his father Joe (as in any old Joe?). He is an albino but instead of being an anak araw, his name evokes moon-inspired lunacy as in Looney. His “real” mother is Alpha and the shadowy other mother is Alpha’s old acquaintance “Beth” (also played by Del Valle). Put them together and you get Alpha-Beth. “Serioso ka?” Luny remarks. He doesn’t grant his sole parent, his mother, the honorific “po.”

Their love-hate simmers below the surface but occasionally Luny, as a mouthy teenager, can burn. His fascination with the non-human reproduction of primitive marine creatures might allude to his own fatherless state but the character’s delivery is mechanical and flat, hence one does not feel his pain.

Alpha locks up her wayward son inside their house to avoid losing him. The story requires him to be covered with jellyfish stings, a fitting comeuppance perhaps, for his habitual disrespect. Unlike the helpless preschooler in Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014), another conflicted mother-child situation, Luny is old enough to choose which buttons to push to set his mother off, so he elicits little sympathy. Del Valle may also be too young and inexperienced for the complex roles of the two mothers who have had their share of suffering and loss.

The film features a film within a film. Alpha is shooting a documentary about an island where the myth of the baconaua serpent demands the sacrifice of a first born child to assure the fishermen’s bountiful catch. There is a faint echo of Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) set on a remote Celtic island, where children are also sacrificed to ensure a bountiful harvest.

On this island, no one thinks of migrating to work in the cities or overseas. Anyway our culture is steeped in the Judaeo-Christian tradition where the loss of the first born is memorialized in the plague on Egypt, the almost sacrifice of Isaac by his father Abraham, Herod’s massacre of the innocents, and even the presumed death of Joseph who was Jacob’s first born with his beloved Rachel. Even the crucified Jesus was Mary’s first born.

Luny’s disappearance ultimately compels Alpha to seek him in the depths of the sea. In some languages, the words for mother and for the sea are the same. To find her son, the mother must also find herself.