The danger in having a lawyer watch a film about law school is he might see things in the movie that aren’t there. Going through the maze of more than a hundred years of law and jurisprudence while honing the legal 4Rs — reading, recitation, (w)riting, and (a)rithmetic, and being constantly subjected to an ultimatum, law or videogame cohorts, law or your girlfriend, law or your sick parent, is an experience a lawyer is not inclined to repeat. There is a possibility that a film about law school will generate ghostly apparitions in the lawyer who went through the hard years and came out scarred but alive.
But I’d like to think I managed well, as I sat through Bar Boys, a film supposedly premised on the ultimate horror experience of law school, letting images and scenes trigger memories from the period in my 47 years on earth which I often describe as being “on leave” from everything else. I was both laughing and teary-eyed at the shock of recognition upon being shown images of bundles of photocopied cases, markers, heavy volumes of law books, and the law school characters: the arrogant professor with a twisted-tounge, the violence of the frats, and the esoteric but crucial difference between the curve and the cut-off grading system. Indeed, Bar Boys delivers the authentic law school life. I have to check myself now — yes, all of those things were in the film.
Bar Boys is a story well told. It got an “A” rating from the Film Ratings Board, because it is not a strung up gag show about law students, but a solid and coherent film about four young adults going through law school hell.
There are at least four stories here finely woven into an easy running time of 71 minutes. Christian is the rich Harvard-bound looker with a perfectionist father and a displeased girlfriend. Toran is the fratman who becomes part of a hazing session that shakes his moral compass. Eric is the struggling son of a security guard who experiences the ultimate test of emotions, taking the bar exams while grieving the death of his father. And Joshua is the one that did not make it to law school; he probably ended up us the client.
The film is an adventure to the sub-realm of the legal world. In the process, the characters experience the heartless system that separates the elite group who makes it to the other side of the bar and those who are left to stay in the same side as the masses. The characters hurdle their own tests, often less about the law but more about themselves, and their friendship itself is tested at the climax of the film.
Joshua, the non-lawyer among the leads, judges his friends, “mga nilamon na ng systema” (those who have been eaten by the system), reflecting the idealist lamentation of our lost hopes that we put on our lawyers and the legal system. But what is the alternative to the legal system that we often complain about but the reckless and brutal authoritarianism and lawlessness of dictatorship? Hobbes be damned. The legal system centered on due process as an absolute is a great system. Oops, that one did not come from the film. Yet, Bar Boys pulls out Ranier Maria Rilke from the Book of Images as a professor consoles the bar flunker close to the end of the film, “The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” So, fine, we’ve been eaten by the system, but it is a damn great one.
I hope Bar Boys generates enough interest to break ground on a new film genre about the Filipino experience of the law. It is only through stories like these, well-told and entertaining, that we can reconcile with the alienation that most of us feel with the law and its disciples.