Never Not Love You (Philippines, 2018): Love in the Spirit of Capitalism
Antoinette Jadaone’s romantic drama Never Not Love You (2018) has a title that sparks theoretical interest. If Proust’s madeleine cake brings us to his hometown in Combray, Jadaone’s title transports us back to the early formative years of Marxism, at the foot of Marx and Hegel, where the idea of dialectical materialism was conceived.
“To never not love” – what could it mean, for me, for you, in relation to the film itself, in relation to Marxism, in relation to the capitalist mode of production, or in relation to the philosophy of life in general? We come to ponder. Jadaone’s play of words seems to imbibe a sense of intellectual journey for the viewers. That is, in watching the film, one rediscovers at certain stages in which this strange paradox of never not loving unfolds.
For a long time now, Filipino romantic films, especially the ones made by big studios like VIVA Films and Star Cinema Productions, have always copied titles of popular love songs to entice multi-generational audience. Usually the title-song is incorporated in the film as a soundtrack as a kind of resonating effect making the film easier to remember. It might not be the case for Never Not Love You as it attempts to use a title based on an idiosyncratic style of phrasing. Although admittedly, the film has not innovatively changed the viewing experience of the Philippine Cinema.
What marks the radical suture in the title is its phrasal structure. ‘To never not love’ constitutes a double negation, or a negation of negation, one of the foundational concepts of Marxism.
In symbolic logic, double negation is just one of the intermediate rules of inference. Along with grammar’s syntactic logic, to never not love can simply be reduced to something like ‘to love,’ essentially because in formal and grammatical sentential logic, the double negative is absent in the final expression. However, in Hegel’s formulation, this double negation is not something reducible to ‘to love’. For Hegel, to negate what is already negated does not restore the old. It rather constitutes a new reality, overcoming the form of the previous construction while preserving its real content. To negate a negation is to sublate meaning to ‘overcome and preserve.’
Marx draws from Hegel to formulate a sublation of capitalism. For Marx, the first negation is the conversion of individual private property to socialized private property under capitalism. For example, abandoned lands, which were once owned by individuals, are now reactivated as socialized private spaces in capitalism for accumulation of capital. Malls, industrial parks, private commercial spaces are some examples of the first negation. A negation of negation would entail seizing back these lands from the capitalists while maintaining the socialized condition of these properties. The negation of negation of capitalism is socialism.
In a similar way, the narrative of the film Never Not Love You shifts from negation to double negation. The film’s crisis centres on the impossible conditions of truly making way for love under the spectre of twenty-first century’s global capitalism. Joane (Nadine Lustre) and Gio (James Reid) are our inseparable lovers, both challenged by global capitalism’s indifference to the human condition. They represent global capitalism’s subjects – young bourgeois individuals threading between precarity and job security. A brief glimpse of their intertwined lives shows how capitalism creates desires in life. Joane’s bourgeois aspirations are rooted in capitalism’s reward system for workers who have rendered extra hours beyond their contracted working hours. Joane is locked in this desiring-production of capitalism, in which her notion of hard work or extra labor power corresponds to constituting a better life. In commodifying and selling her labor time, intellectual capacity, managerial skills, and womanhood, she constitutes a very limited idea of success, typical in twenty-first century’s Filipino bourgeoisies. In fulfilling her desire of becoming an assistant brand manager, she wishes to achieve a new house for her family and a black car for herself. All of which are desires produced under the rubric of capitalist mode of production. Joan presents to us a subjectivity deeply entangled in capitalism’s conditioning of desire.
Gio, a precariat and a visual artist struggling to make ends meet, is a considerably attractive man for Joanne as he represents the disentanglement of Joanne’s rigidity and career-conscious life. For the first time, Joanne witnesses a possible way out of capitalism, although apparently, Gio’s precariat labor is unsustainable for Joanne’s plan in the future. Joanne’s family is not convinced with Gio’s unstable source of income as a graphic artist.
We see both of them in the opening scenes of the film at their happiest, riding a motorcycle towards nowhere, imagining perhaps a fantastical and metaphysical notion of freedom as escape from work, quite similar to how Tracy Chapman imagined it in her song “Fast Car”. The motorcycle brought them together towards a determined future, constituting perhaps the first negation: to not love. ‘To not love’ consists of the indelibly happy moments in the film, moments of infatuation marked by purely corporeal and aestheticized joy: no pain, no sacrifice, and no ethical stakes at hand. Time during these infatuated moments is mystical and celebratory. ‘To not love’ means no stakes at hand yet as we see Gio and Joanne moves towards a conditionless future.
The idea of love in the film is constituted as a double negation: to never not love, which is entirely the moment when both of them took a chance, a leap into the void, the moments when their time is at its most critical, most intrinsic, and the time when sacrifices were made. This is when capitalism knocks again when Gio gets a stable job opportunity abroad, threatening a possible separation in their relationship.
Gio’s opportunity abroad is not a rare case. A lot of Filipino overseas contract workers (OCW) have experienced displacement from their loved ones. And one of the weaknesses of the film is the romanticization of the labor export policy of the government. Gio’s case presents a potential narrative path that could generate enough contradiction to unmask these prevailing labor abuses to Filipino OCWs abroad. What the film did was to conceal and moralize the prevailing labor atrocities. The movie skirted through a montage of false pretensions: Gio adjusting well and fast with his job in London, while Joane struggles emotionally to reconcile her notions of career success of her would-be managerial position in the Philippines with her current job in London as a café assistant. Joanne’s condition is more receptive to class contradictions than Gio. In her attempt to reconcile two realities, she was able to assess the disparity of labor conditions between the Philippines and the United Kingdom. Joanne’s condition depicts capitalism’s unequal treatment of labouring bodies. She is not honoured in London with an equivalent position as assistant manager because she comes from a developing country with lower standards for work. The subtle issue of race is also underscored in one scene where a customer berates Joanne, which triggers her alienation further.
The issue of labor is the source of conflict in the film. We are thrown into a fit between two characters torn between keeping a job and sustaining a lasting relationship. Through this crisis, we are again haunted by Marx and his double negation that confronts both the characters and us in relation to twenty-first century capitalism. Both Jadaone and Alain Badiou agree in one thesis about love: in lieu of global capitalism, love is weakened by the inequality, displacement and alienation brought by global capitalism. Love contra global capitalism, must, in all aspects, constitute an international subjectivity: a radical love that can embrace distance, racial difference, and multiple temporalities, and a radical love that can constitute an international project for the proletariat. It must stand by Marx’s principle that ‘workers must have no fatherland.’
It appears now that there are two instance of double negation in the film. First, the double negation of never not loving one another, which can be interpreted as Gio and Joanne’s sublation of love – an overcoming of a first love while also a preservation of its original content. The second double negation is rather implicit: the negation of capitalism, which is socialism.