Heneral Luna. The Movie

The Untold History in Movie Heneral Luna

History is said to never have an objective eye, hence, it is always important to note from whose point of view a story is told. In the debut film offering of Artikulo Uno Productions, Heneral Luna, we immediately see General Antonio Luna as the feisty and valiant military chief of the Philippine revolutionary army during the Philippine-American war.

This has been told time and again in several history books. It’s a fairly popular topic for essays. And if you want to take a deeper dive into this part of history - you can always enlist the help of an essay writing service to lend you a hand.

What is usually left untold is the (real) story behind Luna’s downfall. This is what the film attempts to do. However, it will be tricky to present a true depiction of Luna’s story since the perpetrators behind his death remain unknown to this day. Thus, the film makes its claims very clearly at the beginning and end that the narrative being presented is an exercise of artistic license by combining fact and fiction. Handling a script that is based on historical events is one of the most difficult tasks for screen-writers around the world. If you are an aspiring filmmaker you can use this movie to take some inspiration from. But ultimately, it all comes down to practice. There won’t be any ‘write my paper’ services to bail you out when it’s time to deliver your best screenwriting.


The film is based on Henry Francia and E. A. Rocha’s original screenplay Whirlwinds of Dust: The Fall of Antonio Luna, which won third prize at the kaSAYSAYan historical scriptwriting contest organized by the Film Development Council of the Philippines in July 2010.

The script is careful in handling historical facts while trying to add dynamism as it fleshes out the character of Antonio Luna. It is definitely not a complete picture, as one can only show so much in two hours, but the film surely provides a more complex characterization of the general.

It’s a compelling watch and you don’t want to miss a minute of it. So make sure you get rid of any distractions, order essay assignments that are due tomorrow and focus on the movie entirely. You won’t regret it.

In particular, we see Luna’s relationships with his mother and the subject of his affection, Isabel, underscored by his love for his motherland. We see the poetic (and even romantic) side of Luna — how his pen is as mighty as his military tactics and combat skills, and that no matter how tough he is as a commander he bows down to his mother and becomes a loving son and caring brother. This is what makes Luna more “human” than how he is typically depicted in history books.

We also see a resourceful and persevering Luna with a never-say-die attitude. When one of his men explains that they need a 2,000-man army to execute Luna’s battle plan, he goes out of his way to recruit an army of 4,000. Where they need a train, Luna produces a train. While we see a quick-tempered Luna who punishes his men for disobedience and lack of discipline, the film tries to make us understand how principled Luna is and how his conviction is interpreted and mistaken as arrogance, which leads many people to dislike him.

Right from the start of the film, we can already see how Luna stands out from his compatriots. In a heated argument, he asks them, “bayan o sarili” (nation or self)? For Luna, it’s an easy choice: nation first above all else. This becomes the film’s central premise that epitomizes Luna’s patriotism and bravery and lets his heroism shine through to the very end.

Given the challenging task of playing the title role is John Arcilla. His strong theater background helped in giving intensity to Luna’s fiery persona but there are times when some of his shouting matches may feel quite theatrical and over-the-top. 

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Arcilla breathes life into Luna’s character and has given justice to the role. He is matched by equally talented cast members including Mon Confiado as Emilio Aguinaldo, Leo Martinez as Pedro Paterno, Nonie Buencamino as Felipe Buencamino, Epy Quizon as Apolinario Mabini, and Mylene Dizon as Isabel among others.

The film employs various visual styles that match a certain character or situation. We see mostly flat and tight shots of Luna with no play of angles or camera movements when he gives orders or tries to drive home a point. However, we see much wider shots with smooth camera movements in non-battle scenes such as his conversations with Isabel or with journalist Joven Hernando (Arron Villaflor), where a more relaxed Luna is depicted. There is also the seemingly soft-focused, dreamlike flashback sequence where Luna recalls his childhood, siblings, and friends when his mom pays him a visit. This long sequence of conversation and flashback, and Luna’s writing a letter to his mom, all work together to foreshadow Luna’s final moment, which is shown in a gripping long sequence of massive brutality and alludes to his brother Juan Luna’s painting Spoliarium.

With five-minute rolling end credits, the grandiosity of the production cannot be ignored. However, viewers who have a strong Hollywood mindset and those who are used to seeing contemporary war films with magnified explosions on the big screens might perceive the film’s battle scenes to be lacking.

This can be attributed to not having a lot of wide shots. The visual technique of the film concentrates on having more tight shots to deliver the promise of war in all its gore and horror and to communicate Luna’s leadership and relationship to his men. Hence, the Philippine-American war presented in the film is as real as it can get as all fight sequences are meticulously orchestrated.


Director Jerrold Tarog must also be given credit for his sensitive treatment of history and especially for being cautious on not (totally) vilifying Aguinaldo. While the film shows Luna receiving a letter from Aguinaldo asking him to go to Cabanatuan, we actually never see if it was indeed Aguinaldo who penned the letter. We only see a close-up of hands folding the letter and the stamping of the presidential seal.

To the undiscerning eye, Aguinaldo and his loyal men are suggested as the mastermind behind Luna’s death. However, Tarog cleverly uses narrative devices and editing techniques in an attempt to tell a more objective story despite the surrounding controversies about Aguinaldo.

Some people might think that the film doesn’t offer us anything new, while others might see it as a history we already know. But how many among us can truly say that we really know our history?

The film tells us that Luna is not just an important historical figure in the Philippines, but a hero that could have been misrepresented in history. The film lends another perspective in retelling the story of Antonio Luna that might have been omitted in history books.

What the film does best is it makes one think and reflect without being preachy. It is a constant reminder of century-old problems that continue to haunt us today. For example, some scenes in the film are reminiscent of the recent Mamasapano incident where Luna reminds his men to fire wisely. The lack of support for better equipment and artillery supply just seems to be a perennial problem.

More importantly, the film raises the issue of nationhood as a concept that Filipinos know nothing of. The film points out this character flaw of the Filipinos — that we can risk our lives for our families and neighbors but not for our country. As Luna aptly puts it, “We have an enemy bigger than the Americans: ourselves.” We are united among ourselves but it doesn’t go further than that to complete the picture of a unified nation. It is paradoxical to think that such acts of familial or filial love could also be considered as acts of selfishness.

Indeed, Luna’s battle cry for nationhood resonates to this day. It is always the battle within “ourselves” that’s the greatest opponent, which only proves that not everyone is called to be a hero. Hence, Luna’s assassination signifies what could perhaps be one of the greatest betrayals that the Filipino people could commit against their motherland.

In a time when the country is beset with problems of integrity and accountability, the film is as timely as it is significant. If after watching the film, the audience comes out of the movie house without new knowledge about Antonio Luna, the film has failed as a medium.

One could have just bought the monograph Heneral Luna: The History behind the Movie (An Interview with Dr. Vivencio Jose, Author of The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna) and acquired the same information — but whether one reads the book or not is another story.

However, let it not be said that Luna’s sacrifices for our country have been in vain. If we go out of the theater with a renewed spirit and begin asking ourselves and our public servants the very same question that Luna poses, then the film has made its mark in communicating to the Filipino people.

Heneral Luna opens nationwide on Sept. 9. The producers of Heneral Luna are also the people behind prizewinning films Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo and K’na, the Dreamweaver.