Lessons from Love You to the Stars and Back

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The fact that I’m writing a second review for Love You To The Stars and Back shows you how much I enjoyed the film. Coming to see the movie with no idea about Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia’s on-screen chemistry and acting skills actually impacted the way I appreciated the movie since I had no expectations. As I said in my previous review, I left the cinema (twice ha!) deeply impressed.

Here are some additional thoughts I took away from the movie:

Pain
In an interview, LYSB director Antoinette Jadaone shared that the movie is about pain, and how we cope with it or accept it. In the film, Caloy and Mika handle their pain and emotional baggage differently. Mika runs away from it; Caloy hides it under a layer of humor and optimism. Mika’s painful experiences makes her combative, single-minded. Caloy, however, learns how to empathize because of his condition. The two only faced the pain when they finally discovered one another. Mika learns to let her guard down, gradually seeing that the loss she grieves has blinded her to see the love that surrounds her. On the other hand, Caloy’s “optimistic bluff” finally unravels after a heartbreaking rebuff from his estranged father helps him to feel the pain and see that it’s okay to not be okay, to suffer, to feel.

Suicide
The trip to Mt. Milagros to be abducted by aliens seemed to be a metaphor for suicide, what with Mika explaining to Caloy the whole plan will help them run away from loneliness and sickness. Even their final phone call to family came across like a spoken suicide note. When they back out from the hike out of fear, and check in at a resort for the night, Caloy and Mika have an interesting conversation. Caloy realizes that if he chooses to be abducted by the aliens he won’t have the opportunity to do a lot of things – go to Disneyland and Palawan or even play against Kobe Bryant. Mika agrees – dream adventures like sky-diving and climbing Mt. Everest will no longer be possible if they push through with the hike. Suicide often cuts a promising life short. So many possibilities and plans evaporate into thin air. Like suicide, being abducted by aliens seems preposterous. Why would anyone want to be taken away by extraterrestrial beings. We often ask ourselves the same question when we learn of someone who has chosen to take his or her life away. Why?

Jadaone deftly delivers a powerful moral lesson without being so brash or self-righetous about it. Love – sincere belief in this powerful notion- is worth more than the “uncertain” promise of being abducted by aliens, better than a quick fix for their wounds. Pain blinds us from seeing the love that is given to us. Often, it takes someone else who can empathize with a person who is going through a lot of pain to let him or her see this love, this life. Mika’s note to Caloy upon waking up from his treatment explains this clearly. Through all the chaos – internal and external – the two went through, Mika finally sees her selfishness is the cause of her pain. She wanted to be happy but did not understand that to do so, you need to learn to love and be happy for others too. Caloy discovers this truth to as well. He fights for his life during his transplant. Living might mean more pain, but giving up meant losing the opportunity to love. Kudos to Jadaone for really tackling this theme astutely and sensitively. I hope young people who see the film, will not only find escapist thrill but also a reminder to love others in a digital age where self-love and vanity is glorified. I hope they will find hope in love especially from the people around them – enough of it to keep on fighting and living.

The People Around You
LYSB focused on the two characters for much of the film, allowing the chemistry between Mika and Caloy to simmer and brew gradually without any distraction. The side stories, however, were populated by colorful characters. Mang Berting is all hard work and heart, a tribute to the men and women who labor out of love. Belle Mariano’s puppy love stricken and self-pitying character is a reminder of the innocence and ignorance of youth, often dealing with self-esteem issues of teens who are in need of a little boost of confidence. Caloy’s mother and siblings are endearing – a Batangueño family full of tenderness, support, and affection, coping with financial difficulties like many Filipino families do, and making incredible sacrifices to make ends meet.

When we’re dealing with loneliness, we tend to insulate ourselves from the outside world. Either that, or we begin to take for granted others. In discovering one another, Mika and Caloy also begin to see others. Mika, especially, learns to be more empathetic and compassionate. Caloy, too, lets go of his pride to accept the medical treatment his family has been working hard for.

The Bridge
I found the dramatic breakdown of Caloy at the bridge to be the penultimate scene in the film. Joshua Garcia was outstanding in this dramatic moment – his voice breaking off, his eyes full of raw emotion, his anger and exasperation palpable. You could feel the pain of the rejection from his father. For someone who was so cheerful and lighthearted throughout much of the film, his unravelling and subsequent crisis of faith was both affecting and unnerving.

Julia manages to stand her ground as an actress. Her pleas as Mika to Caloy, her reassurance that she will listen, her stubborn refusal to leave was a quiet pillar of love that held Caloy from completely collapsing. The bridge too seemed like a metaphor. At that moment, both finally “crossed” the threshold of their pain, having exhausted so many emotions to get to that point in their lives. All the running away, all the pent-up anger, all the internal turmoil blew up. It was time for healing.

Sometimes, we’re full of so many things and there is little room for love and to love. Our resentments, our biases, our pains keep us imprisoned. Caloy’s breakdown was his relief. It was his freedom. He could not solve the world’s problems by pretending everything was always okay. Mika too finally sees that she wasn’t the only one in pain, a realization which started from a heartfelt conversation at a roadside carinderia where Caloy teaches her optimism. And while Caloy’s pain did not invalidate Mika’s emotional baggage, it helped her begin a process of accepting her mother’s passing. Mika’s steadfastness helps Caloy see this too especially when his own life was finally on the line.

LYSB shows us that running away from pain or hiding it in false optimism is just another form of denial. Accepting pain, loss, and suffering without fear isn’t any easier. But it’s the only way to heal. Having someone to help you get through it, then, makes all the difference. And it doesn’t just come from a romantic relationship – the love from family and friends is as much a cure, even more so, than a serendipitous roadtrip romance.

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