Lahi, Hayop (2020), dir. Lav Diaz
The Ubermensch in Us
Gary C. Devilles
Lav Diaz’s Lahi, Hayop may be a typical journeyman story where the journey itself leads to an epiphany or a powerful self-realization. In this case however, Baldo, Paulo and Andres are miners who live off a daily income, become prey to various levels of exploitation from each other, especially, from their superiors. The landscape of exploitation is revealed at the onset, in their daily conversations where they have accepted their fate and that their bosses are hell bent on extracting their own resources. It is not farfetched to see the miners ironically as the mines themselves and they are literally digging their own graves.
The story then moves with their decision to go back home in Hugaw Island, which is said to be mythical and full of creatures. Usually journeys in stories represent overwhelming mental and physical challenges that protagonists must undertake, and these journeys are depicted as crucial to their development or enlightenment. But here, the journey back home is a wretched descent to murders and mayhem and, in the end, the viewers as in most of Lav Diaz’s films are left pondering the nature of humanity, our desuetude in the grand scheme of things, even our constant desire to change and better our condition.
Lahi, Hayop then, may as well be the journey of every Filipino today as how we see ourselves in this political quagmire and pandemic. Though the film does not seemingly offer an easy, fictive resolution, as it should be, it depicts a philosophical landscape, one that is akin to the Nietzschean ubermensch, or someone who can rise above conventional moralities to create his or her own path and values with respect to this shared nature of survival and ethical generosity. For Friedrich Nietzsche, the problem with humanity is that one has forgotten the will to live in the present or embrace the connection with other creatures all because of the promises of religion for a better life, or other-worldly life. While belief in God at some point did give meaning to life for a time, Nietzsche believes that the idea of God can no longer provide values, and with it, the danger of nihilism looms. Accordingly, to deal with nihilism or to avoid relapsing into Platonic idealism or asceticism, new values must be created, one that must be motivated by a love of this world and of life.
This appeal to a Nietzschean ubermensch sensitivity resonates with all the characters, especially Baldo, Paolo and Andres. They need to relinquish this other-worldly beliefs and moralities, embrace their primal needs, and acknowledge that their collective survival rests on an ethical generosity of all creatures, humans, animals, including the elements in the environment. This means that one cannot work or produce without recognizing the potential contribution of other creatures and acknowledging that everyone is entitled to his or her fair share. Even the notion of humanity’s’ concept of absolute property must be challenged or revaluated because ultimately, a lot of so-called fixed assets are really coming from free bounty of nature. Land as property will not be what it is without the sun, the wind, the plants, and other creatures.
To be an ubermensch then is to accept that the world does not revolve around humanity alone. If there’s one thing that this pandemic has taught us, is that there is nothing that makes us extraordinary – we are all participating in the endless cycle of birth and death or growth and decay. Therefore, why own more than what can be used and accommodated in a lifetime, or even in a day? Of course, such question can easily be dismissed as pointless for those who have been oppressed and deprived of property in the first place. But this detachment to propriety should extend to a sensibility and sensitivity for a collective political engagement. This is the reason that when Patricia Non has set up a community pantry with a sign that says, kumuha lang ng kailangan, magbigay ng ayon sa kakayanan (literally, get what you need and give what you can), it appealed to a lot of people who eventually set up their own community pantries. Patricia and the rest of us were already fed up with the government’s inability to respond to our needs, on top of their politicking, senseless killings, and the corruption in various agencies. The pandemic has indeed exposed the system’s bestiality, and the apt response is really a form of resisting this degeneration and an appeal to our truer sensibility, which is to get something from the community and give something back as well.
Lav Diaz’s Lahi, Hayop is timely as it offers a revaluation of a lot of things, and it uses the forest again as a zeitgeist that can be traced in our canonical literatures like Florante at Laura and Noli Me Tangere. Just as in the film and our literatures, the forest will always have beastly creatures ready to eat us all up, but these forests will also be the sites of revaluation, of forging new ways of looking at things, pondering and forging at the same time new affiliations, and potential redemptive acts. Lahi, Hayop will always remind us of the ubermensch in us all.