In the movie Instalado (IMDB link), one is treated to a vision of a futuristic city on the horizon. Their holographic billboards float in the sky as the sun mercilessly beats down on a wide expanse of rain-parched farmland. It’s the perfect symbol of the film’s theme: the future is just around the corner, yet seemingly out of reach. The tale of Icarus comes to mind, and his daring journey to freedom on wings of wax. Does it fly?
This review has spoilers.
Jason Laxamana‘s latest foray into film tackles the struggle between science and society: with the ability to inject education directly into one’s brain at a steep cost, what happens next? The story winds around three characters and the people they encounter: Victor (McCoy de Leon), a poor farmer’s son who dreams of escaping the dust-filled poverty that he has grown up in; Danny (Francis Magundayao), a young Creative Director who struggles with his corporate success at the age of fifteen, and Arnel (Junjun Quintana), a prodigal rebel who proudly proclaims his “insta” status to his former teacher before declaring them obsolete. The movie mostly focuses on the relationship between Victor and Arnel, with the former willing to do menial work to earn as much as possible to pay for the process from the latter, but does touch on Danny’s unhappiness between work and personal fulfillment as he brings a home-grown alternative to the fore.
Over and over again, the commodification of knowledge and the ensuing arms race are touched on. While the biggest “insta” centers are funded by Chinese and American firms (likely a nod to their real-life scientific excesses as of late), a home-grown startup tries its best to muscle onto the scene – with disastrous results. Meanwhile, an alternative ostensibly funded by the Catholic Church provides a meager thirty slots for free “insta” processing across the Central Visayas regions. They get overwhelmed by the entrants, with a million souls vying for a coveted slot. Even those who protested the “insta” process tried – and failed – to join in, much to their opposition leader’s chagrin.
It’s an interesting take on social advantage and opportunity as they clash with the traditional values found in the Filipino workplace. Is it moral to possess an edge over others simply because of status and wealth? With today’s debates on nootropics, transcranial direct current stimulation, and similar measures in medicine, the future that Instalado has envisioned might not be too far behind. Some may take a page from the film and protest, while others may resent the upstarts for being considered better than them. The clash in the film comes to the fore as Danny confronts his much-older assistant over her passive-aggressive behavior. At the edge of her patience, she retorts that his intelligence was bought – the frustration at his senior position despite his youth all too clear. In the end, she accepts that in spite of her academic honors, she is reduced to being an office assistant.
Instalado suffers from some narrative stumbling blocks. A religious conflict gets awkwardly shoed in as one of the winners of the raffle happens to be Muslim – convert, Danny tells his lucky friend, or not get the coveted chance. (Were this to happen in real life, it would be a media field day.) Arnel tells Victor that he wants him to have Nursing installed so that he can take care of his elderly parents in Manila in exchange for the bulk of the money for his upgrade – which wouldn’t be a problem, if the mention didn’t suddenly come out of nowhere towards the end of the film. At its climax, Victor rides a bus to Manila with a bag full of money – stolen, presumably, from Arnel’s drawer stash. Except we have no idea how he stole it, as the next scene shows Arnel jogging in the afternoon heat that he claims he detests before he breaks down into madness.
Overall, Instalado serves as a good talking point for people to come to terms with the changing world and its advances. There are no good guys, nor bad guys – just the merciless march of progress, as distant as the holographic city on the horizon. The film ends with Victor finally getting his brain upgraded, the farmer’s Icarus gambling that his waxen wings won’t melt his brain into insanity – or worse.
Watch it. It might just be your next brain fix.
Good – Interesting storyline, with human characters.
Bad – Somewhat predictable narrative. The meeting with potential EduCom influencers/promoters in particular could have been built up better (I may have hoped that the escort was an EduCom plant, and the confrontation with Prof. Taruc could have been played out more realistically. Plus, no NDA for the director? Really?).
Ugly – Too many subplots (Muslim vs Christian, Danny vs his mom, teacher storyline) and lack of long-term consequences for “insta” users until the second half of the film severely detract from one’s immersion in Instalado’s storyline.