Back in college, I was once forced to defend the moral acceptability of suicide in a debate. In my effort to win for our team, I said there’s an unwarranted social stigma against people who are just exercising a legitimate solution to their problems, and on the basic level, killing yourself doesn’t impinge on the rights of other people anyway, so really, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. I argued that there’s a need a demystify the very personal decision of taking one’s life, that there shouldn’t be a problem in ending it because it’s yours anyway, like a personal property no one should have an opinion about or power over. If you have a car and your neighbor blows it up, you can sue him, because it’s not his. But if you blow up your own car without any collateral damage, you’re perfectly fine. It’s the same with life, if you can accept the crude analogy.
In some countries like Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Colombia, and some states in the United States (Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico), assisted suicide- the one where a physician usually administers a lethal drug to the person- is legal. I’m alright with the idea of killing yourself, but if and only if you’re terminally ill. If it’s about suicide of an otherwise healthy individual who seems resigned to his/her sad life, I think the government should err on the side of prudence and focus on the value of promoting life and positivity instead of telling its citizens it’s okay to be defeatist.
I was never a fan of killing one’s self, and I still am. At that time, though, I had to win a debate round, so I tried arguing why it’s okay, even if you’re healthy. But it’s not, okay? Killing yourself when you’re not terminally ill is not cool.
Two years later, still in college, I had to write a paper on suicide reporting, and it was then that I learned more about suicide. Contrary to popular belief, suicide isn’t caused by a singular event, say, losing a bet in a casino or having your humiliating sex tape leaked into social media. Suicide is caused by a confluence of factors: toxic environment, unhealthy family dynamics, bad friends, lack of support systems and a host of other things that only need a trigger to blow up. That is why the Society of Professional Journalists reminds reporters not to attribute a person’s suicide to a singular event, because psychology shows that motivations behind killing one’s self are way deeper and more complex that what we usually think. What separates the suicidal people from the normal ones is that the normal ones are capable of overcoming problems because they are free from the lethal combination of external factors that drive them to their breaking point. Suicidal people have it differently, which is why I was slightly disturbed after seeing #Y, one of the entries in this year’s Cinemalaya (Philippine independent Film Festival).
See the movie’s trailer here.
#Y is a coming-of-age film about a college student named Miles (Elmo Magalona), who struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Together with friends Janna (Colleen Garcia), Lia (Sophie Albert) and Ping (Kit Thompson), they breeze through the world of privileged young adults occupied by sex, drugs, social media, EDM and references to Catcher in the Rye. The film begins with Miles’s suicide scene, where he tells the audience about his fascination with death. He tells us it’s cool when he saw his grandma die. He also killed his cat who had cancer, and he had a friend who recently died in a car crash.
He tried killing himself by gorging on a handful of pills, but failed, so he tried jumping off a building instead. Before successfully killing himself, however, Miles manages to talk to Abbie (Chynna Ortaleza), a volunteer at a suicide hotline who tries to talk him out of murdering himself. Miles talks about a suicide of an acquaintance, a daughter of a senator who is embroiled in the country’s biggest corruption charge. His not-so-close friend, a social-climbing, imeldific/Jeane Napoles-esque character who apparently lived the high life off of taxpayers’ money, killed herself after being bullied online and harassed by the media. Miles explains to Abbie what could’ve possibly driven her to kill herself- mean people who don’t understand.
Abbie then asks Miles why he wants to take his own life. At this point the film becomes explicit in its failure to make Miles’s character understandable and his struggles relatable, like Holden Caulfield or Charlie from The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Miles tells Abbie that he doesn’t know why he wants to kill himself, and even goes as far as comparing himself with his suicidal socialite friend. She was driven by bullying to kill herself, while he, on the other hand, doesn’t have any clear reason why he’s suicidal.
To be fair, the film’s story wants us to believe Miles is a depressed nutjob, talking to an invisible brother Mark (Slater Young) whenever his schizophrenia attacks. It may lead us to believe that Miles’s suicidal tendency is a function of his being crazy, but even his imaginary brother wants him to get better, at one point even asking him to take his medication. Miles is also regularly attending therapy, religiously takes his meds, is rich and is surrounded by a loving mother and a bunch of cool friends. So ano ba talagang problema mo, kuya?
By dodging this crucial question in the film, #Y almost fetishizes suicide by trying to absent-mindedly forward its acceptability, trying to make killing one’s self look cool. It’s one thing to remove the mystery surrounding suicide, but it’s an entirely different story in trying to make it look accessible and alright. When I argued about the need to demystify suicide during that debate round back in college, I was thinking of people buried deep in colossal problems who were left with no other choice but to kill themselves- extremely poor people and those confronting real and present danger. I didn’t have a picture of a privileged boy who had no other problems other than understanding and properly articulating his vague feelings of sadness.
I’m not the type who usually contemplates the morality of a particular film, because the cinema house is not a Good Morals and Right Conduct class where every student is supposed to figure out the moral of every story, but with a topic as sensitive as killing one’s self, I think the filmmaker behind #Y could’ve done a lot more in expounding the complexity of suicide, especially those driven by craziness- things normal people need to clearly understand. The movie’s target audience- the young adults- need to comprehend the complex motivations behind a character’s morbid fascination with death and killing himself, and it’s not addressed by Miles merely saying “I don’t know” when he is asked why.