Thursday, May 18, 2017

Dear Other Self

Rebecca (Jodi Sta. Maria) is a source of inspiration for aspiring travelers, what with her famous travel blog and 10k followers on Instagram. She traces her success story back to her decision to resign from her 9-5 job and fly to Thailand to fulfill her dream of travelling solo. There she meets Henry (Xian Lim), a Filipino-Canadian backpacker who becomes her companion as she braves her new world. An alternate reality unfolds where she does not quit her job and becomes successful career wise, even developing a romantic relationship with her co-worker Chris (Joseph Marco). However, she is constantly hounded by her family’s dire financial situation as well as the what-if scenario of leaving every responsibility behind to follow her dreams. The two Rebeccas experience their respective ups and downs, lending two distinct perspectives on living the same life, but through a different lens.

The scenes are presented in a chronological manner, but they shuttle back and forth between the two realities. This style can be quite confusing at first, at least for those unaccustomed to such unconventional plot structure. Nevertheless, it achieves some sort of instant gratification, giving you both realities almost simultaneously instead of consecutively. This somehow achieves a unique effect that allows you to give both versions of the same narrative the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps this is because the focus continuously shifts between the two storylines, not granting you enough time to invest on either one before being abruptly cut and presented with the other. Without the luxury to develop biases as far as the plot is concerned, you get to appreciate the advantages shown in both.

The story succeeds in showing the ups and downs of both lifestyles. For travelers, everything seems exciting, yet also fleeting. Itineraries. Friendships. Hook-ups. Not everyone is born to endure that kind of temporary setup where every relationship easily ends with a goodbye as soon as you say hello. For those stuck in the 9-5 routine, it’s the semblance of normalcy that keeps you grounded, a sense of stability stemming from the thought that you are already established in one place.

This does not mean to say that you will have no biases at all when it comes to the contrasting lifestyles on display. For the demographic that this film caters to, the line between the two types of travelers is clearly demarcated: the one who writes the blog and the one who reads it. For the typical millennial, you are either one or the other. You can’t be both. Maybe this is the reason why a third category of travelers, those who serve as a hybrid of the two, is totally disregarded. Blame rarity? In any case, you will end up identifying with your own status quo, which is exactly where the magic of the screenplay lies.

A traveler and a full-time employee will not necessarily have the same viewing experience. But the beauty of the premise is its ability to tell its audience, regardless of their everyday reality, that hey this is what you are missing. This is, or can be, your what-if scenario. Reflecting upon this on your free time is one thing, seeing it fleshed out onscreen is another. What life usually suggests is that you should make a choice, but in the end you will realize that you can derive satisfaction by having a healthy mix of both. That is another positive aspect that is worth noting here. There is no plot twist in which Rebecca wakes up realizing that everything is just a dream. Instead, the two realities run their own course and end up with two Beckys who live two distinct lives, neither one being deemed as a better version of the other.

What does that imply? The screenwriter appears to espouse the same thesis: There is no such thing as a “better” life. You only live once, and what that one life turns out to be is a result of the choices that only you can make. Instead of thinking of alternative scenarios that will never occur, you need to arrive at decisions to make this one, the only one, count. This film could have easily jumped the shark and took the convenient ending by pushing one reality as the better option. It’s a good thing that it does not commit such atrocity, because it sends a clear message that your life is your own doing, and that there is no such thing as a what-if scenario. Life is simply what you make it.

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