TO gaslight is to manipulate a person into questioning his or her sanity. This form of emotional abuse was first depicted in the 1944 movie “Gaslight,” featuring Charles Boyer as a husband plotting to drive his wife, played by Ingrid Bergman, to insanity.
Based on the play by Patrick Hamilton, Boyer’s character switches on the attic lights, making the gaslights flicker. The husband convinces the wife that she has imagined the spectacle.
False narratives shift the ground of reality to make a victim cling as to a lifesaver the false reality created by his or her abuser. In Mike de Leon’s 1981 film, “Kisapmata,” mother and daughter swill the dark to bare their hearts in a house where both women are imprisoned by the retired police officer Diosdado “Dadong” Carandang.
Dely, played by Charito Solis, knows their daughter Mila (Charo Santos) is pregnant with Dadong’s child. Incest and rape are impossible to prevent, the viewer gleans from Dely’s testimony that before Mila was born, she fled Dadong, only to return because no one helped her. Resistance is futile for Dely, who conspires with Dadong to keep Mila from leaving home with husband Noel Manalansan (Jay Ilagan).
In this odious tête-à-tête where light is broken to pale shards by the overriding darkness, Mila blurts out that she did not invite Dadong’s attention, immediately establishing that these two are not mother and daughter but rivals and antagonists.
Mila escapes to religion, going down on her knees the morning after she is raped by her father to pray to a vengeful God to rescue and free her, a divine champion whose wrath will open the eyes of the blind, unplug the ears of the deaf.
What is ultimately unbearable in “Kisapmata” is not Dadong, the fiend with a fetish for guns and his own flesh. What chills is the gaslighting.
As pupils well-schooled in their trauma, the women do not blink in sacrificing all to secure their own survival. Dely will feed Mila again and again to the monster who begat her. Mila will not show her diary and at least gird with the truth her poor naïve husband, who thinks he is only up against an overprotective “Tatang”.
Gaslighting bends and twists logic. Why does a woman escape and then return to give birth in the lair of a beast?
Why do Filipinos dehumanized by a family that has plundered, raped, and murdered for years bring the Marcoses back to power? Why do we breed in fake histories and varnished pasts the monsters that will devour our children again and again?
In the darkness of the Carandang prison, Mila cries out: “Ba’t ganito tayo? Nagsamasama dahil sa takot?” If we cast our future in lies and nightmares, we are truly insane.
Source of image: “Elephant in the room” by Tarantadong Kalbo
* First published in SunStar Cebu’s September 26, 2021 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”