The defining trait of Jason Paul Laxamana’s Mercury Is Mine is its forthright craziness. Never has madness been beckoned with this much vigor; it’s reckless, relentless, and completely unsound of mind. The film opens with the title character, played by Bret Jackson, a young American, who, in the scene, finally confronts his deep-seated father issues. And with what, you ask? Well, nothing less crazy than a big boulder of rock, which he uses to bash his father’s skull in. The scene in question feels punishingly anxious, unhinged, and thusly, a perfect prelude to all the madness that ensuesㅡsomething of an affirmation, and a promise: this film is crazy.
This boy, Mercury, shares with the film an unhinged bluntness (or is it the other way around?). At one point he even makes a joke of his own psychosis, making a Filipina eatery owner named Carmen (Pokwang), who is similarly inches away from derangement, lose her mind. Actively keeping distance from her family, Carmen is the antithesis of the Filipino familyㅡ”I’m not proud of them,” she even tells Mercury later in the filmㅡand empathizes with the young American whom she takes in as the help.
From here ensues an unbearably awkward relationship between two completely different people, drawn together only by their unhinged minds and circumstance. And there, you begin to see a pattern: aside from the unflinching irony and wide-grinned observations in his films, Laxamana’s unshakable fixations on American culture brand this film as truly his own. No filmmaker I know is as incredibly gung-ho as the satirist who has a big enough pair of ball sacks to have centered his debut feature (2009’s Astro Mayabang) on an impossibly arrogant nationalist, berating all forms of white culture, and, during his film Magkakabaung’s supposedly serious denouement, have pulled a punchline by populating the scene with babbling police officers who read Miranda rights in broken English. In Mercury Is Mine, Laxamana mirrorsㅡtriumphantlyㅡour own fixations on the whites, from swooning over them to leaving their corpses on sewage. In this sense, we, too, share the film’s innate crazy and rottenness.
Just as intriguing: the characters on which the film pivots. Carmen, at one point, even lies about being sterile and how her husband had died, due in large part of the embarrassment she feels of her own family. These white lies are the stuff of cute-meets, the kind that you make when you want to make an impression on the Frenchwoman on the train, which, in this case, is what makes the dynamic all the more unsettling. The full-bodied plot implies a connection between Carmen and Mercury on a sensual level, and that, along with a few more swivels in the story, can at times be quite overwhelming. You’re welcome to brand this yet another mother-son complex of Freudian proportionsㅡyep, that old story of the Normas and the Normans of the worldㅡbut when both the characters’ facades crumble down and left only are their respective psychoses, it makes for a far more intriguing watch, perhaps even more than the film’s satire.
Laxamana’s films are not averse to irony; on the contrary, it is their very foundation. The mission, if I follow it correctly, is to find the incredibly funny in a most unusual circumstance. And with the case of Mercury Is Mine, the funny and the circumstance work. It’s funny, unsettling, and scathingly cynical. The film ends on a note as efficient as its prelude. The Filipino, in the end, outwits the American, having kept in mind that in order to make gold, one will need mercury.