100 (Chris Martinez, 2008)
Joyce (Mylene Dizon), weeks before her death, confides to her best friend Ruby (Eugene Domingo) her greatest worry: "What if during the moment I die, I discover that there is nothing after?" Joyce's fear is legitimate. After all, the afterlife is a creation that reinforces humanity's need to exist eternally. After death, identities live on. It eases the difficulty of acknowledging that we'll eventually die, knowing that death is not the end. Ruby, dumbfounded by Joyce's sudden query into existentialism, arrives at and casually and humorously delivers a surprisingly plain yet logical answer: "Think of it this way. When you die and there's nothing after, you wouldn't know that since you're already dead. When you die and there is something after, then be happy. Treat it like a bonus." It's a lovely scene, one that reveals a weakness in Joyce's exterior of assuredness and resolve. Despite Joyce's firm acceptance that death is a mere few weeks away for her, she is still afraid of no longer existing, of being forever forgotten. Outside that scene, Joyce dauntlessly lives life as dictated by the post-its pasted on her bedroom wall.
Director Chris Martinez acknowledges that death is tragic. Joyce acknowledges that too. Thus, she plans her remaining weeks, making her death less painful for her and her loved ones. The casual treatment she gives death is not out of strength or integrity. She is undoubtedly flawed, calling her married lover (TJ Trinidad) at the instance of an amorous itch, or the long delay in her revealing her situation to her mother (Tessie Tomas). However, she knows the feeling of losing a loved one since her father also died of cancer a few years back. She knows how hard it is for her and her mother to move on, after such prolonged agony and a sudden, unexpected mourning.
Her casual treatment of her own death is not motivated by some unrealistic emotion or characteristic but by sheer selflessness. Her initial and least difficult tasks involve taking care of the trite logistics of her death: choosing and paying for her coffin and her wardrobe, even picking the songs that would be playing at her wake. More complicated are the tasks that do not rely on her solely: making sure that the last memories of her best friend with her are happy, making her mother accept her passing as quietly and less painful as possible, and reigniting the failed romance with her ex-boyfriend (Ryan Eigenmann). The film jumps from one task to another in a near-clockwork fashion, until all the post-its stuck on the wall are gone or are replaced. The beautiful thing about it is that Martinez infuses the narrative's mechanical approach with sensitivity and affection for the characters. There is no climax, just occasional crests of heightened emotions, of fear, sorrow, happiness, that are retained up to the end.
Martinez's 100 is not exactly about death or whatever comes after, but about life, or more specifically, about living life. In the film, Joyce's impending and expected death is a mere backdrop. This allows Martinez to play around with the conceit, infusing wit and comedy into the traditionally morose subject matter. There's much value added in the mundane: as when Joyce and Ruby reminisce on their school days in their old classroom, or when they visit Hong Kong and take pictures with Mickey Mouse, Buddha and the wax statue of Brad Pitt, or when Joyce downs gallons and gallons of ice cream, or when she engages a stranger to a passionate kiss. Knowing that the activities are done out of making most of her very limited life, there's a tinge of melancholy, of overt joy, of thrilling desperation to these moments. Martinez manages to harmonize a bevy of emotions into one genuinely amiable package, and for me, that's quite an achievement.
100 opens with Joyce journeying in the wilderness until she arrives at her destination, a serene lake in the middle of the crater of a volcano. It's a striking image, one that might be interpreted as Joyce's afterlife, a prelude to heaven. It's not. We never really see Joyce die and I don't think Martinez would allow her heroine, a symbol of life's preciousness no matter how short it is, to be seen succumbing in death's acknowledged tragedy. The peaceful lake is a metaphor, a poetic rendering of the film's most sublime moment which happens in the end. The sequence is drowned in silence. Joyce wakes up and walks towards her loft's living area. There, she sees the people she will leave behind laughing, interacting, in bliss. She doesn't interrupt and remains unseen. Instead, she reveals a comforted smile; she is sure she can die both in peace and leaving peace to the ones she loves. Death and the afterlife have become mere trivialities. She has lived life.