‘Instalado’: knowledge is power, and power corrupts

Despite its problematic attitude to science, and its shortcomings as a work of cinema, ‘Instalado’ is full of ideas demanding discussion.

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The release of every new Filipino science fiction film is cause for excitement, because sci-fi is such a rarity in Philippine cinema. It does not help that the mainstream attempts are often trashy—figuratively as well as literally, in the case of 2007’s Resiklo. Science fiction, or speculative fiction in general, is an engaging medium for discussing important ideas about society. The genre holds great potential for our country, where the people are addicted to escapist entertainment.

We cannot blame a lack of talent and imagination. There is in fact a wealth of excellent speculative fiction in Philippine literature, but these stories remain obscure in a nation with no particular love of reading. (We have great authors like Dean Francis Alfar, who have published stories and books in fantasy, sci-fi, magic realism and every conceivable speculative genre, not just in the Philippines but internationally.) Films, with all their pomp and celebrity, are more effective at penetrating the Filipino consciousness, and thereby is a more powerful channel for disseminating meaningful stories.

Enter Instalado, an entry to the 2017 ToFarm Film Festival. (This festival is itself a fascinating and unique project, with its dedication to the upliftment of Philippine agriculture.) The genius of Instalado is in the premise: it was a brilliant stroke of creativity for its filmmakers to have come up with a science-fiction approach on its way to joining a film festival about farming. Agriculture immediately evokes the pastoral, the rural, and indeed many entries in ToFarm are traditional dramas set in the countryside. Instalado instead recognizes that the struggles of farmers can spill down the road to the city.

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In the image of consciousness

(What follows is a vague, messy shadow of an essay. Maybe it’s the point. But as an excuse, consider it an impressionist work instead.)

The computer is a projection of the human mind. It is the physical and external manifestation of philosophical-mathematical thoughts, a machine that runs on theories of representations, logic, and physics. With 21st century computers, much of the machinery has been hidden, such that when the ordinary user taps on her smartphone—a contemporary computer—to create a document, share photos, and communicate with a friend, what is left is a deceptively simple, enchanting experience.

The human mind thrives on stimulus, just as the computer feeds on input. Both possess memories, perform logic, and visualize data. But for both subjects, it is perhaps the first attribute, the capacity for storage of information, that is the most valuable. It is where the treasure lies. It is how value, to put it in utilitarian terms, is retained.

However, especially in this aspect of memory, there are serious limitations in the computer as an analogy for the mind. Computer memory is rigid: unless running software instructs certain pieces of data to be transformed, the data will stay as is, even after years of storage. Whereas human memory is fragile: it is widely known that older memories are less reliable. Rare is the person whose powers of recollection is gifted with perpetual integrity.

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