“Contra mundum!” (Defy the world) is the familiar line in National Artist Nick Joaquin’s “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino,” the play that has become the widely praised big-screen musical “Ang Larawan” in the ongoing Metro Manila Film Festival.
It was the exhortation of a chastised Senador Perico to Candida and Paula Marasigan, spinster heroines of Joaquin’s magnum opus, who would today be aptly described as the original “Titas of Manila.”
Perico, an ex-poet, set out to convince Candida and Paula to leave their old house in Intramuros and cash in on the final work of their ailing father, Don Lorenzo el Magnifico, who has become a recluse.
Candida and Paula however turn the tables on Don Perico, reminding him of his genteel past, before he was ensnared by dirty politics; and of the regular tertulias or soirees at their home where they talked about art and literature – everything except politics.
And so the message of Joaquin and “Ang Larawan” is not today’s fashionable “carpe diem” or “seize the day,” but rather “contra mundum.”
In the story, Candida and Paula become among the last holdouts of Intramuros and continued to defy the fast-changing world around them, perishing only because of World War 2.
They would rather fight for their “ideals,” even at the risk of poverty, than be rich but live a life devoid of meaning and mooring.
“Ang Larawan,” of course, is Joaquin’s paean to Old Manila, which is consigned to history and black-and-white photographs.
Its genius however is that it still resonates today among Filipino families fighting to keep their heirlooms, heritage homes and traditions, despite modern distractions and temptations to sell out.
It resonates deeply among Filipinos struggling against poverty and fighting to keep their way of life, wary of Western impositions and foreign ideology.
Filipinos everywhere are a sign of contradiction, holdouts even, amid international pressure on the country to adopt the social-engineering policies of the West, the insidious goal of which is to gut the nuclear family in the pursuit of carpe diem individualism.
In contrast, the Filipino diaspora to the West has only been a positive force, filling up their empty gothic cathedrals and preventing their otherwise certain demographic winter.
As the rest of the world shun the old and enduring ways of life, and wither as a result, Filipinos and Filipino culture thrive. Thus have Filipinos endured by defying the world, not by being consumed by worldliness.