‘Goyo’: Seeing Gregorio del Pilar through the eyes of the boy general

I finally watched “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” on Netflix, after failing to see it during its theatrical run.

“Goyo” is a more difficult movie to get through than the crowd-pleasing “Heneral Luna” (which is also on Netflix, by the way). Partly due to its length and slow burn, but more importantly because it strips away the heroic image of Gregorio del Pilar to reveal all the imperfections of the 24-year-old boy general.

It’s personally more difficult because Del Pilar is one of the Philippine heroes I grew up admiring, not only because of his legendary last stand at Tirad Pass, but also because he was a Bulakenyo and the Liberator of Bulacan, my home province on my father’s side. I grew up in Manila and would only visit Bulacan to go to the houses of my grandfather and other relatives, but I identified with the province and was proud of its contribution to Philippine history and, yes, Philippine cuisine.

What this film, the second after “Heneral Luna” in a planned trilogy of biopics of Philippine heroes, succeeds in doing is showing that the famous boy general truly was a boy. A vain, gullible, womanizing, flamboyant, and egotistical boy who was blinded by his loyalty to his own hero, the first Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo. He was known as the President’s favorite general, and as his hatchet man, who committed despicable acts against his fellow Filipinos for the sake of the President.

We watch Goyo as seen through the eyes of others and through his own eyes, as he begins to question why he is doing all this, and what he is fighting for. Is he fighting for his country? For his principles? For the President? For his friends? For his men? For the woman — or women — he loves? For himself?

We see the journey, the slow transformation from boy to man, from hero to human, but the film doesn’t cheat us with a neat ending, or any redemption. The hero dies, and it is not even a heroic death. But maybe, just maybe, in choosing to make a last stand that ultimately proved to be in vain, the boy general found some peace in knowing what a man must live and die for.

“Goyo” doesn’t answer our question about what it means to be a hero. Instead, it invites us to ask these questions in the first place, and be critical of our tendency as Filipinos to be blinded by hero worship and idolatry, and to be swayed by personalities rather than principles.

I loved “Heneral Luna”, but I like “Goyo” even more and think it’s the better film.

“Heneral Luna” made us feel. “Goyo” wants us to think.

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