‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’: delirious with desire

A mesmerizing ode to finding beauty in a dreary city.

Obeng (Anthony Falcon), hanging out on the streets, watching Aileen (Iana Bernardez) who is blurred in the foreground and is sitting at some canteen in Manila, in ‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’.

The city, or the abstraction of this place, is an irresistible fixation for poets, fictionists and all kinds of storytellers, who spend much time imagining and fleshing out this concept or community, whichever form the city takes for their characters and purposes. Perhaps they find it wonderful how chaotic crowds of people find a measure of order when they walk down the same streets, just as seemingly disparate elements of stories seek structuring to form a narrative. Perhaps they appreciate the density of districts, which radiate the sense that there is always a story to be found just around the corner, down the alleys, inside the buildings. We all constantly desire to find the exciting things buried underneath the dreary details of life.

Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus is a captivating expression of this urge. The film, a love letter to Manila’s Avenida, weaves smoothly through the streets and spaces of the district as it tells the stories of four men linked together only by their common admiration for a woman named Aileen (Iana Bernardez, in a stunning debut). She is introduced in the glorious opening scene, walking in slow-motion on the streets, to the music of Ikaw Pa Rin, a song one could easily imagine blaring from those karaoke units being sold at Raon.

The men carry weary outlooks or aggressive temperaments, the products of their harsh surroundings. Collectively, they portray various manners of acting on desire, disordered in different ways. There is Caloy (Nicco Manalo), the thrift shop assistant, whose daily joy it is to attend to Aileen’s frequent shopping. In her presence, he can barely find the words to speak, content in following her around the store, obeying her every polite but otherwise annoying request to take pictures of her in the dresses she has not even paid for yet. In her absence, he schemes to set aside the best clothes in the store and arrange the furniture section for her and her photo sessions, even while he struggles to pay the gratuitous discounts he (and not the store) gives her. His best pal and wingman is Winston (like the cigarette; played by Nestor Abrogena), who has the sense to tell him, every now and then, how Aileen has become a habit for which Caloy has no practical endgame planned.

Nestor Abrogena and Nicco Manalo as Winston and Caloy in a run-down apartment in ‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’.
Nestor Abrogena and Nicco Manalo as Winston and Caloy.

There is Alex (Dylan Ray Talon), the irresponsible and hedonistic college student, who finds in Aileen an escape from the tedium and responsibilities of his young life. In pursuing her he loses interest in, and respect for, his actual girlfriend Pam (Ash Nicanor). There is Obeng (a terrific, menacing Anthony Falcon), the lonely thief, whose obsession with Aileen takes a fittingly materialist form: he stalks her and snatches her necklace and earrings, valuable pieces of her that he then takes home for adoration. And there is Lando (Soliman Cruz, in a performance both sympathetic and intriguingly aloof), proprietor of a second-hand appliance shop, a widower for 12 years already but seemingly still loyal to his dead wife, because now he wants not women, only whores.

Towards the end of the story, Aileen responds to the fantasies of the four men. She acts in ways suiting their individual styles, needs, and wants. She becomes seductive to Lando, youthful to Alex, coy to Caloy; with Obeng, who does not speak in the film, she shares a wordless moment.

In doing so, Aileen perfects her character as an icon of desire and an object of devotion. Indeed, when Hypothalamus is described as mesmerizing, it might as well be reduced to that opening scene that introduces Aileen, an enthralling image that places her on a cinematic pedestal, inviting the viewer to regard her as the men do. To call this film as beautiful, hence, risks the accusation of judging with a male perspective—however, the film reveals itself to be a portrayal of how damaging such a gaze, such a desiring, can be for the subject as much as it is for the object.

It is true that Aileen is objectified: throughout the film, she wears a uniform from an unknown job, constraining her individuality and idealizing her as a woman. In all the stories of the four men, she is the outsider, the other character. And, indeed, her agency is limited—but crucially, whatever action she takes of her own accord affords her a powerful hold over the men, which comes precisely from her being their much-coveted object of desire. The film heavily points to, but never explicitly tells, the ultimate futility of the men’s delirious quest to satiate their desires, and the costs of this pursuit; the film hides these just behind the blinding spectacle of Aileen. The attentive viewer will look further, to the smaller roles of Pam and Maritess (Lando’s store assistant, played by Angela Castraverde), the story’s two neglected but realized women characters.

There is the additional complication, of course, of the question of who, or even what, is Aileen indeed; it is a question impossible to resolve in literal terms. Her story is left unexplained, so that her mystery, and desirability, might be kept intact.

Nevertheless, the lines of Mikael Co’s Panawagan, the poem that Pam reads over one of the film’s most sublime sequences, offer an interpretation.

Aileen, perhaps, is the personification of the city, and this film fulfills a cinematic daydreaming about Manila. Like the storied city, Aileen is an ever-mysterious muse, perfectly malleable, always satisfying her dreamer’s imaginations.

Hypothalamus is then, above all else, an ode to desire and its role in the life of the city. Just as it is said that the hypothalamus, and not the heart, is what truly animates a man—it is our fundamental need to dream and desire, and not necessarily any higher purpose or principle, that carries people through life, that keeps the city bustling, thriving, and throbbing.

From the closing verses of Panawagan:

Ito ang lungsod.
Kanina ka pa niyang pinipilit abutin.
Maniwala ka.
Sa likod ng mga gusali, maliwanag na.

Still frames taken from the film’s teaser trailers.

Author: DJ Ramones

Scribbles about films and other fabrications.

8 thoughts on “‘Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus’: delirious with desire”

  1. finally, after much anticipation, i saw the film tonight in a micro-cinema. it didn’t disappoint. i agree with your review… my favorite scene is the poem montage. powerful poem…

  2. Hello. Napanood ko na ‘Hypo’, finally, at hinanap ko agad itong post mo pagkatapos manood. Hehe. Ito ‘yung assertion na nag-stand out sa akin: “The attentive viewer will look further, to the smaller roles of Pam and Maritess (Lando’s store assistant, played by Angela Castraverde), the story’s two neglected but realized women characters.”

    Hindi ko yata nakuha kung paano naging “realized” ‘yung mga tauhang ‘yun? Paano nga ba? Pero baka hindi mo na rin maalala, haha. In any case, curious din ako sa point n’ung mismong paragraph. You concede that Aileen is objectified, but objectifying her is, um, justified? Because she weaponizes her sexuality of her own accord? Because the men also suffer from objectifying her? Is that right? And does it matter to you that the “realized” women characters are also “neglected”?

    Na-enjoy ko rin ‘yung pelikula, actually, though I think perfectly valid din naman ‘yung gender-based criticisms lobbed against the film. Nayayamot nga ako tuwing nakakabasa ng tweets na dini-dismiss ang kahit anong analysis na may kinalaman sa pag-objectify kay Aileen e. Sabi ng direktor, ang babaw daw. Sabi ng ilang fans, mali talaga ‘yung gan’ung pagbása. Medyo off sa akin ‘yun, kasi para bang basta hindi umayon sa intensyon ng direktor ang reaksyon mo e bobo ka na, o sadyang hindi ka lang attentive manood ng pelikula. E kung ang direktor lang pala ang may tamang sagot e ‘wag na lang tayong magkuro-kuro, ‘di ba? Tutal e kababáwan lang naman pala kung bubuo tayo ng mga pagbása na lihis sa layunin ng direktor e. Pffft.

    So I guess that’s my biggest beef against the film, which isn’t really about the film but more so on how its makers and avid fans are defending it. ‘Yun lang haha. 🙂

    1. Hi!

      Hindi ko yata nakuha kung paano naging “realized” ‘yung mga tauhang ‘yun?

      Realized sila not in the sense that they’re well-rounded characters (and they’re given too little screen time anyway to achieve that), but that they are real characters with their own needs and struggles. Mali siguro ‘yung paggamit ko ng salitang ‘realized’, probably I meant, simply, just ‘real’, as opposed to the illogical existence ni Aileen.

      You concede that Aileen is objectified, but objectifying her is, um, justified? Because she weaponizes her sexuality of her own accord? Because the men also suffer from objectifying her?

      Yes, that’s what I’m thinking. Some time after I wrote this, nakausap ko ‘yung director at pinoint-out niya ‘yung mga easter eggs, for example ‘yung mga maling-tingin ni Aileen sa camera. It’s the object gazing back at the subject. That’s one of the main ideas of the film for me, a subversion of the objectifying male gaze.

      And does it matter to you that the “realized” women characters are also “neglected”?

      It does, of course. If we’re talking about them as fictional characters, it contributes towards their narrative purpose (in my interpretation), which is to highlight the self-centered behaviors of the men. If we’re talking about them as if they were real people, well they simply don’t deserve suffering such abusive, unkind behavior.

      Sabi ng direktor, ang babaw daw. Sabi ng ilang fans, mali talaga ‘yung gan’ung pagbása.

      Isa ako sa mga ‘yun, pero ‘yung nirereklamo ko ay ‘yung pagbása na hindi napick-up ‘yung subversive intention ng pelikula. Katulad ng isang review ng Cinema Evaluation Board, na hassle kasi it affects the very availability of the film for audiences. But I’m trying to understand the other, more complete, perspective, ‘yung nabása ang subversive intention ng pelikula pero tingin parin nila na hindi tama ang ganitong portrayal, na hindi parin ito katanggap-tanggap. Iniisip ko lang na gan’un talaga, sugal ‘yung ganitong pagkukuwento ng filmmaker na ang gusto niyang i-criticize, ginagawa niya. Delikado talaga ‘yun, kasi kung hindi pag-iisipan ng manonood at hindi maalam sa gender politics, mape-perpetuate lang ‘yung problema ng objectification in cinema.

      (‘Yung ‘Elise’, isa pa ‘yung nagustuhan kong pelikula, pero mas delikado pa ‘yun, kasi gumagamit ng male gaze pero walang intensyong mag-critique.)

      Ipagtatanggol ko nalang din siya, pero I don’t think naman na ganoon ka-dismissive si Dwein Baltazar. Baka biased lang ako dahil nakilala ko narin siya sa personal, at totoong natutuwa siya kapag may nakaka-gets ng layunin niya sa kuwento. Pero napag-usapan narin namin ang ibang mga gawa niya at curious naman siya sa alternative interpretations. Hot topic lang talaga ‘yung gender politics, dito sa Hypo.

      1. Hello again! Haha. I heard about the easter eggs on your podcast a long time ago. Inisip ko tuloy, if the movie intends to criticize the male gaze, why hide the details that support this intention? Cinematic easter eggs are deliberately hidden e — they add value to a film if we catch them, but they’re generally not expected to encapsulate a film’s message. So in Hypo’s case, I don’t think we can blame the viewers for not getting the point, especially if the ‘textual’ proofs that carry the intended message are presented through small quirks that are hidden on purpose. Hindi ba?

        Anyway, whatever the intention is, I still think we must flag and question the film’s depiction of Aileen by focusing on the more blatant details. Aileen doesn’t have her own personality and, as you also noted in your post, she modifies her demeanor according to the fantasies of each man. The malleability of Aileen’s persona panders to the misogynistic mindset that women must always adapt to the whims of the men around them, just so they can live in peace and (potentially) be in power.

        Sa madaling sabi, isinasabuhay ni Aileen ang ideyang babae at babae ang laging kailangang mag-adjust. Are we supposed to look beyond this because she switches personas of her own accord, i.e. okay lang ‘yun kasi ginusto niya naman? Because she implicitly rejects the affections of those poor lonely men, i.e. she holds power over them, even if such power is still contingent to the desires of these men?

        To be honest, Deej, I’m really struggling to see how the film challenges the male gaze. That sexual objectification is just as damaging to men has long been established — to portray this in film does not subvert an oppressive gaze, it simply presents it. Also, when you said “kung hindi pag-iisipan ng manonood…mape-perpetuate lang ‘yung problema ng objectification in cinema” — does the burden always have to be on the viewer? Is it also possible that maybe there were lapses in the creative decisions of the makers which led to these alternative, definitely-not-what-the-director-intended interpretations?

        I have nothing personal against the director naman, hehe. I just really want to speak against the circlejerk surrounding this movie kasi it seems to arrogantly shush anyone who holds any form of dissenting opinion. Kung makabintang pa ng “hindi n’yo kasi pinag-isipan” o “ang babaw n’yo”, para namang kayo-kayo lang ang may monopolyo ng lahat ng katalinuhan sa mundo.

        ‘Ayun lang ulit. Peace tayo, DJ, ha. Mwah mwah! ❤ 😀

      2. No, kailangan talaga ng dissenting opinions. Kung hindi ikaw, sino? Haha.

        I don’t think we can blame the viewers for not getting the point, especially if the ‘textual’ proofs that carry the intended message are presented through small quirks that are hidden on purpose. Hindi ba?

        Tama ka, especially for the film’s audience at large. Kaya lang I hold the CEB specifically to higher standards e. Hindi naman kaunti lang ang nakaintindi ng gustong iparating ng pelikula—and any committee of film reviewers worth their salt would have someone who could come up with that interpretation.

        The CEB’s review of Hypo was strongly dismissive, kaya proportional din ‘yung reaction ko doon. (And as I said they have the power and authority to de-facto censor films.) I don’t remember singling out other people with the same opinion, pero nadamay ko din yata, and I’m really sorry about that. Sa podcast namin, behind the scenes, we worry too about the circlejerk happening in the industry, and we’re particularly guilty because we’re not exactly working against it.

        As for easter eggs being just value-adding treats rather than being the key to a film, that’s why sinabi kong sugal ‘yung pagkakagawa sa pelikula. High-risk, high-reward ang Hypo: it has a higher risk of being ‘misunderstood’, but also promises a stronger, more lasting impression—because an understanding arrived at through more difficult, more cryptic means becomes more rewarding. But I think I’m speaking mostly from my personal encounter with this film when I talk about its potential impact (more on that later). And of course, mali nga ‘yung idea na the filmmaker’s vision is the only valid way to digest a film.

        Aileen doesn’t have her own personality… The malleability of Aileen’s persona panders to the misogynistic mindset that women must always adapt to the whims of the men around them, just so they can live in peace and (potentially) be in power.

        That’s true, kaya nga I could say na Hypo commits sins but does not atone for them, it only tries to be so blatant in the hope that others will see the sins as exactly that. However, it’s mitigated by the fact that Aileen isn’t exactly a real woman, and more of an ethereal caricature, a personification of objectification pushed to its extreme. She doesn’t have her own personality, because she isn’t quite a person really. She doesn’t really have the needs that full, real humans have (so “ginusto niya naman” doesn’t apply).

        But to counter my own counter-argument, I think problema parin na ‘yung pelikula portrayed and represented a woman, a seemingly physical and clearly female person, in this way. Such representation I think can only be justified if it serves a greater purpose—for example, to effectively challenge male gaze.

        At doon tayo nagkakatalo, at sa totoo lang talo ako. Kasi sabi mo, “That sexual objectification is just as damaging to men has long been established”—and it’s on me that I actually wasn’t aware of this before seeing Hypo. It was a revelation to me, and I arrived at it only by thinking thoroughly about the film. You say the film doesn’t subvert an oppressive gaze, it simply presents it—but that presentation was educational to me, who didn’t know about its finer points. It was uncomfortable to me, and still is, to realize that a large part of the pleasure of watching this film for me was in fact due to its extreme exemplification of male gaze operating in film.

        And I also had the privilege of being in a position to have this realization. Casual viewers, i.e. the majority of the population, do not and often cannot afford to spend as much attention and effort in understanding a film. So yes, the burden should not always be on the viewer.

        So maybe CEB had a good point after all. Delikado ang pelikula, at kailangang limitahan ang makakapanood. Hmm.

        Ayun lang. Salamat sa diskusyon!

  3. Hehehe. Pero uy, I’m all for questioning the CEB’s decision din a! Na-trigger lang talaga ako sa mga nabasa kong dangerous-slash-misguided interpretations of feminist film theory (choz!), and also d’un sa comments like, “sexual objectification? ang babaw naman!”

    You made me realize na siguro ‘yung mga nagsabi n’un e hindi naman necessarily nababawan sa analysis; siguro uncomfortable lang din sila sa implication ng gan’ung pagbása. Kasi if you love a film so much and people are telling you that its portrayal of women is highly problematic, the implication is you also support such problematic practices. Sino nga naman ang matutuwa o aamin sa gan’un? Haha. Pero ‘di naman personal na atake ‘yun e, kasi lahat naman tayo work-in-progress. Ang mahalaga ay open tayo sa mga bagong ideya at patuloy tayong natututo. Naks.

    “Kailangang limitahan ang makakapanood” — huy wala akong sinasabing ganyan a! Hahaha. Hindi naman siguro, harsh naman ‘yun. Mas marami pang pelikula ang mas chaka at mas deserving na ibaón sa lupa. Doon na lang tayo (or ako) sa kailangang pag-isipan, pag-usapan at punahin ang Hypo para mas lumalim pa ang pag-unawa natin sa mga problematikong pagsasalarawan ng kababaihan sa midya. Para mas matuto pa tayo.

    ‘Ayun lung. 🙂

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