Mendoza’s Thy Womb certainly was not lacking in the areas of cinematography and sound quality. Unlike regular masa films that repel higher class moviegoers with their slightly pixelated picture and muffled dubbing, Thy Womb boasts a crisp picture with a fitting scoring. Only complementing that is the breathtaking grandeur of the surroundings which includes a stroke of luck for the director with the appearance of two Whale Sharks. However, eye-candy is not enough to capture the hearts of the audience. A pretty picture is only just a picture when the message being conveyed is not seen by the viewers.
That is my concern with Thy Womb.
The plot was very slow-paced. Although the conflict was introduced very early in the film, the resolution to this dragged on really long in what Hollywood films would compress into ten minutes or so. For a viewer like me who is used to fast progressing story lines, the sluggish development was quite a turn-off. That is a big issue since the audience today is used to things like instant coffee and fast loading times for web videos. It is possible for the viewers to be focused on how the plot is so dragging that they miss the point of the film. That could be the reason for the film’s poor performance in cinemas.
A critical eye however, would find a certain elegance in how the film slowly develops its community and characters. After further analysis, I was able to discern a possible point being driven at by the film. The film seems to dilly-dally with scenes and events that have nothing to do with the actual conflict, the search for a second wife for Bangas-An. These scenes however, have a theme when put together. They feature how the community values tradition and religion. Several festivals, rituals, and practices were featured in the film. Some were performed at the expense of the safety of involved parties. Especially focused on is the tradition of putting the husband’s wishes over the wife and how women are treated as objects in such a patriarchal community. From these it can be said that Thy Womb features a Badjao community in Tawi-Tawi that values tradition above all else. It is this regard for custom that drives each character as the film progresses.
The community as a whole is very much immersed in their tradition. One scene shows the village participating in a festival in the sea, racing boats. Then more of their custom is showcased with a wedding ceremony as well as the meeting of wife prospects for Bangas-An. It is evident that so much value is placed on their traditions that it overshadows their concern for their relationships and safety.
While fishing, Bangas-An was shot by thieves. Shaleha nursed him to health and they went back to fishing again despite this danger. This shows that their custom and livelihood of fishing there is what they have grown accustomed to and they would rather go through that again than have to change. Another scene that shows such an attitude is the wedding ceremony mentioned previously. While the couple is doing their dance, gunfire is heard and the crowd panics but the couple is told to continue dancing.
Their patriarchal mindset is also demonstrated by various scenes. At the beginning, Shaleha expresses her desire to adopt. However, Bangas-An preferred to have his own kids and just remarry. Then women are treated like objects in stores as their hand in marriage would have to be bought using dowries. Bangas-An chose his wife based on the price and beauty, not romantic attachment.
This value for custom in a patriarchal environment allows the audience to understand the driving force of the couple’s actions. Bangas-An and Shaleha obviously have a healthy marriage. One scene shows Bangas-An giving Shaleha expensive clothing for no apparent reason. Then the couple make love despite its fruitlessness. But then, Bangas-An’s desire to have a child of his own blood overshadows their marriage and forces them to separate. His new wife tells him that after the first child she bears him, he would have to leave Shaleha.
Only reinforcing the point that the community values tradition above all else, he does make the deal and cuts ties with Shaleha after his first child is born. Shaleha does not go against this because of the patriarchy. Throughout the movie, she herself deals with Bangas-An’s remarriage even if she was not comfortable with the whole thing. She cooperated with all the rituals and negotiations. But then only putting emphasis on the actual place of women in that community, in the end she was put aside by the very man she helped.
In the end, the slow pace of the movie actually had purpose. Every part that featured custom showed how the community was very involved and hands-on in tradition and religion. Each scene with the couple only showed how much they loved each other. This only fortified the reasoning for Bangas-An’s decision to take his new wife over Shaleha. With this, the movie actually presents conflicting emotions and sentiment every character feels. It was not a montage of dilly-dallying after all, but a subtle manner of sending a message.