The Intersections of Class, Race and Sexuality in Petersen Vargas’ 2 cool 2 be 4gotten

There is a seamless intersection of sexuality and Philippine postcolonial issues in the story of Petersen Vargas’ full-length feature, 2 cool 2 be 4gotten. The film centers on a high school student named Felix (Khalil Ramos) and two Filipino-American brothers, Magnus (Ethan Salvador) and Maxim (Jameson Blake) Snyder. It uses the coming-of-age tale just like the director’s short, Lisyun qng Geografia, to exhibit how Felix comes to terms with his own sexuality through his relationship with the Snyder brothers.

Felix is an intelligent young man who looks at himself as superior in comparison with his other classmates in a small high school in Angeles City, Pampanga. He speaks flawless English and aces all of his exams in class, but because of his condescending nature, he remains a loner. He is also often ridiculed by his classmates for his clumsiness, and is always left out in games, all of which reinforces his hatred for his peers. In addition, the fact that Felix prefers to speak in English rather than in Filipino or Kapampangan hints that he has a fascination with the American way. Moreover, Felix’s perseverance in his studies is also an indication that he wants to improve his social status, as his family is one of those who were gravely affected by the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the early 1990s. However, the community that Felix lives in has a sense of progress that is shaped by colonial mentality. This is shown in several parts of the film, including one of Felix’s teachers who prides himself in leaving his job in the Philippines and going abroad, and in the penalty imposed by the school administration for those who speak the local language to reinforce the rule of communicating only in English within its premises.

Felix’s sexual awakening as well as his attraction towards American culture are put into focus when the Filipino-American brothers Magnus and Maxim enter the narrative. Everyone in school is lured by the charm of the two teenagers, treating them as popular American celebrities. One of Felix’s classmates quips that Magnus looks like one of the Backstreet Boys, while a Filipino teacher ogles at Magnus and even remarks that the eponymous hero in Baltazar’s poetry may have looked like him. This is further shown in the scene where Magnus asks Felix to tutor him. Here, Magnus is seen with the ray of sunlight behind him, his image blinding Felix as he looked at Magnus. This suggests that Felix is also blinded by his colonial mentality, and later on, by his admiration for Magnus.

The use of the coming-of-age tale is also fitting in developing characterization. Felix and the Snyder brothers are teenagers exploring new experiences and trying to get to know themselves, including getting drunk and smoking cigarettes, which the carefree mother of Magnus and Maxim allows. Furthermore, while mainstream cinema often presents LGBT characters as stereotypical or one-dimensional, this film demonstrates a more realistic and multi-faceted characterization. Felix is still confused and even in denial of his true identity, and assuming that he grew up in a fairly-conservative culture, his condescending stance towards his classmates is just a defense against showing and accepting his real self. Consequently, his aversion towards Filipino culture and his inclination to privilege the American way are also connected with his attraction towards Magnus. Felix’s growing infatuation is pointed out bluntly by the brazen and devilish Maxim, who teases Felix repeatedly about the latter’s admiration towards Magnus. This complexity of Felix’s character and the way he comes to terms with his true self, is far from the misleading and caricatured depictions illustrated in some mainstream films.

Another brilliant aspect of the film is demonstrating the interrelated aspects of power, race and sexuality, specifically elaborated in some scenes towards the end of the film. For example, the use of space is an important aspect in the scene where Felix and Maxim confront each other. Felix recognizes his power towards him and tells him that he will agree to Maxim’s request, provided that Maxim will follow his command. This scene manifests how the use of space becomes a symbolic aspect in forwarding the idea of the film – the location itself is an abandoned area; there is a space between the characters facing each other; and the shot showing the expression of the two characters is presented in a way that viewers will notice the space surrounding their profiles. The visual use of space in the film underscores the gap between the two characters in terms of class, race, and sexuality. On the other hand, while circumstances are generally favorable for Magnus who belongs to the upper class, in this scene Felix turns the power dynamics around – he now has power over an image of the oppressor.

This similar idea is also reflected in the scene where Felix visits the Snyders towards the film’s conclusion. Felix thought that Maxim was Magnus, and upon realizing his error, he hits Maxim repeatedly but the latter does not fight back. While colonial mentality is still ingrained within Felix, he still tries to show resistance against it, as revealed in his rage towards Maxim.

Finally, the last scene where Felix thinks about the absence of Magnus may also be considered as symbolic. As Felix imagines that Magnus was calling him, Felix takes off his school uniform and bares himself – a way of opening up and accepting his real sexual identity, as awakened by his friendship with Magnus. This indicates a change within Felix, who used to be a stickler for rules to the point of being narrow-minded and conceited. It can also be viewed as a resistance against the existing patriarchal norms which limits and rejects people who do not fit into the standards that they have prescribed.

Vargas’ 2 cool 2 be 4gotten, set outside of Manila, in Pampanga, and directed by a Kapampangan filmmaker, is itself an illustration of resistance – by decentralizing narratives and elaborating the cultural and social nuances of the Philippine regions, this film disrupts the hegemony of Manila-centric movies which often give in to stereotypical and myopic portrayals of sexuality and national ideologies. Regional films allow more open and liberated discussions of important societal issues and give voices to people who were once silenced by oppression. 

– Anne Mallari

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