Soekarno: The Dilemma of ‘The Greater Good’

Another self-explanatory movie poster
Another self-explanatory movie poster

I was actually planning to release this review last week, but instead I took a break for an angpao-collecting spree. You can say it went perfectly well. Yes…

Anyway, I put a lot of hope on this review because I’m not fooling around when it comes to talk about my country. So I was expecting you guys to correct me.

Synopsis

As a young man, Soekarno was studied and well associated with both his native homeland (Java and the culture and his fellow Javanese) and the occupying Dutch government (Soekarno can speak fluent Dutch and was well aware of their ‘classy’ traditions). Other than that, in his young age Soekarno lived in a time when Indonesian political figures started to rise; and Soekarno was very lucky to have one of them as his mentor: H.O.S. Cokroaminoto. Inspired by his mentor, Soekarno decided to learn public oratory. Years later, Soekarno became a local political figure and hero towards the people of Indonesia (still in Dutch government occupation), as he is a person with a high skill of public oratory and therefore was capable of igniting the public will of gaining Indonesian independence. The Dutch officials was well aware of that, and in the Dutch occupation period he was put into exile or jails for countless times. But he did not give up. He wrote speeches and letters secretly from his exile or jail in order to get the public’s sympathy. Soekarno, in a nutshell, has an ultimate weapon that the Dutch occupants di not have at that place and time: he had the people. He captured the hearts of the people in a mesmerizing way that the local people, once fearing the Dutch from head to toe, began to doubt their power. The Dutch government was well aware of this, and they hopelessly fight through media propaganda and exiles.

The people's man.
The people’s man.

But the Dutch did not see the Japanese force coming in. The Dutch were not taking the Japanese force very seriously (in my opinion) until it’s too late. The Japanese came, overthrew the Dutch government and military force, and became the new occupant in the Nusantara (Indonesia’s former name before her independence). The Dutch, now aware of what they’re dealing with, tried to smuggle Soekarno and his family out; because they realized what a great asset is Soekarno towards the Japanese, and they feared what was to become if Soekarno joined the Japanese. You just think about it: Soekarno is indirectly the ruler of the Indonesians. He is able to raise up their spirits in a, well, spirited way, and he can frankly make them do anything he wanted them to do. He is the people’s man. He is Soekarno (Bam Bam BAAAAMMMM). Back to the smuggling part (ehm, sorry, got carried away). Soekarno did not want to leave, even though he knows he’s dealing with a force that is totally different than the Dutch government. During Dutch occupation, Soekarno is still partially untouchable due to the existing Dutch law. It was a shield to him to freely express his opinions, as the Dutch were more to democracy rather than fascism or communism (monarchy, actually, but still, the queen of Netherlands must not act so rashly towards Soekarno, because her people may disagree); and Soekarno, as you know, was a truly exceptional public orator. Soekarno is capable of capturing several Dutch’s heart in the Dutch mainland.  The best part is: however mad is the local Dutch government towards Soekarno in Indonesia, they still have to follow orders from the Netherlands capital, Den Haag. In short, the Dutch occupants cannot treat Soekarno anyhow as they want. They have to comply with rules. On the other hand, Japanese were far more brutal. As Soekarno said, the Japanese force will not hesitate in ending a man’s life, not like the Dutch, where the man would be probably judged in a court first. Since in that time Japan was an empire with some sort of a caste, ordinary people have no power at all. Of course, they have rules and laws, but to the Japanese they can do anything they want in an occupied country as long as their superior officers allowed them (maybe like the Generals, Captains, etc.)They are also known for their brutality in dominating another country (like the infamous war event Nanjing Massacre). In short, Soekarno had just lost his best pal the law. Say goodbye to the age of laws, make way for a new era of brutal occupation. Just when the dream for national independence seemed to fade away with the absence of ‘fair’ laws, the Japanese called their trump card: an irresistable devil’s deal with Soekarno and company (Moh. Hatta, the future first vice president of Indonesia, and Sutan Sjahrir, an independence collaborator, too): the Japanese offered independence in exchange for helping them in the ongoing Pacific War. Many Indonesians always thought that our independence was gained through blood and glory; through death of heroes, and through heroic struggles. So this scene delivered one hell of a blow towards the pride of the nation, as you might say. Up to this point, there were two important figures that we must remember: Soekarno and Sutan Sjahrir, because both of them are like magnetic poles. Soekarno believed that by cooperating with the Japanese, there will be less casualties; while on the contrary, Sjahrir was disgusted by the idea of cooperating with their occupants. They are the two extremes, yet with the same core belief: that Indonesia will be independent sooner or later. Later on, Soekarno must also face a personal conflict. His love towards other woman made him left his second wife, Inggit, for Fatmawati.

Inggit, Soekarno's second wife (out of seven, if you're curious).
Inggit, Soekarno’s second wife (out of seven, if you’re curious).
Fatmawati, the weaver of the first indonesian national flag (and Soekarno's third wife).
Fatmawati, the weaver of the first Indonesian national flag (and Soekarno’s third wife).

After several household fights, Inggit decided to leave Soekarno. Sad to say (I am an Indonesian, and I’m a bit embarrased to say that my national hero is also a women chaser), Soekarno married Fatmawati as his third wife. But his problems did not end there. The Japanese asked for preposterous requests such as women (that scene is truly heart-breaking), resources, and Soekarno’s help on their propaganda. Ario Bayu as Soekarno played his role very well to depict Soekarno on those scene, that actually Soekarno did not want those to happen; but for the sake of independence, he did those (half-heartedly). On the other side, Sjahrir continued his undercover independence effort on gathering the nationalist youths to prepare them for their independence. Other than that, Sjahrir also continued his illegal activity of listening to the international radio to check on how the Japanese were doing. To his joy, the Japanese were losing. At the same time, the Japanese force fulfilled their promise towards Soekarno and gave him Indonesia’s independence at Vietnam. But just when Soekarno was about to celebrate this hard-earned achievement when he was kidnapped not long after he got back to Indonesia again. The kidnappers were the ambitious nationalist youths that forced Soekarno and Hatta to proclaim Indonesia’s independence immidiately because Japan had lost the war and therefore Indonesia is without any occupants, for the first time in three centuries. The youths saw this as a golden chance to proclaim Indonesia’s independence. Soekarno and Hatta were not amused being tricked by the Japanese. You see, if Soekarno saw this coming, the downfall of the Japanese force, then Soekarno wouldn’t have to cooperate with the Japanese; letting his people suffer at the hands of them, or worse, killed. The Japanese, true to their words, offered help in the process of proclaiming Indonesia’s independence. Finally, Indonesia was free and independent on the historical 17th of August, 1945.

The original Soekarno reading the proclamation text.
The original Soekarno reading the proclamation text.

Main Characters and Their Stories

Soekarno
Soekarno.
Soekarno.

His original name was actually Kusno, but the name was changed by his father because he was frequently sick (some native Indonesian still believed in the mystic tradition). Soekarno can speak Dutch, Japanese, Javanese, English, and Bahasa Indonesia (as far as I know), so he is a learned man. In the early scenes, Soekarno was seen flirting with a Dutch girl (when he was young). We can conclude that Soekarno was well associated with several upper-class Dutch in his life. Other than that, he is also well-associated with middle-lower class of the local people. So we know that Soekarno is well-associated with two different worlds; the upper and the lower, the occupant and the occupied. It was thanks to his inspiring mentor H.O.S. Cokroaminoto that he became an excellent public orator. Many said his mastery at public oratory in Indonesia is second to none.

Soekarno had many wives. Well, not all at once, but still it’s a bit shocking isn’t it? So don’t be surprised when you meet one of Soekarno’s son or daughter. Perfectly normal.

What else to say about him? Many, actually; but my mind just can’t stop reeling too fast at this point, thus leaving me speechless. But if it helps, I wanted to say that he is no doubt a huge contributor to Indonesia’s independence, and against all other opinion I wanted to say that the image of him valuing lives above everything else is something I truly uphold.

As Terry Pratchett (is his name spelled right? I guess) said it in a fine way (in his book ‘Nation’), “When much is taken, something is returned”. Soekarno had just the faith  to get through all of his people’s suffering to watch the glorious moment of his country’s independence.

Fatmawati
Fatmawati, Soekarno's third wife.
Fatmawati, Soekarno’s third wife.

Sorry to say, my first opinion on this photo was, “yeuch”, and most probably you’re in the same boat as I am. Anyway, onwards to Fatmawati.

The famous wife was played by Tika Bravani, a talented young actress from Indonesia. Historically, Fatmawati is widely-known as the woman who sewed the first Indonesian national flag. Dramatic.

Soekarno married Fatmawati when she was 15 (sounds like Hugh Hefner all over again). Fatma (her shortname) was Soekarno’s student at a school in Bengkulu, taught by Soekarno during his exile. It was her which made Inggit (Soekarno’s second wife) and Soekarno divorce, which gave me a thought about Bob Marley. No woman no cry, right?

Fatma gave birth to to three daughters and two sons; grand total of five, in which four of them, Megawati Soekarnoputri , Sukmawati Soekarnoputri , Rachmawati Soekarnoputri and Guruh Soekarnoputra, is still politically active. Beat that.

Mohammad Hatta
Central figure, up top.
Central figure, up top.

A gorgeous acting was delivered by Lukman Sardi as Mohammad Hatta. I just felt it, you know, the classic hunches you usually get? The actor and the supposed character blended in better than Coffee Beans’ Original Ice Blended, which is saying something (sometimes I prefer Coffee Beans rather than Starbucks).

The calm upbringing he frequently put on is the highlight, because I always thought Mohammad Hatta as the backstage guy, never a spotlight guy. He is a key figure to me because I think he is the middle point between Soekarno and Sjahrir, in which Soekarno prefered submitting to their occupants as a step towards their independence and Sjahrir (a hot-tempered little guy) wanted a rebellion. So yeah, you can say his existence at that situation a ‘divine intervention’.

He is well-known as the first Vice-President of Indonesia and also a friend to Soekarno. There’s probably still much about him but I guess the essence of it is that as the second wheel, you will play a role no less crucial than the big boss. That’s what happened to Hatta anyway; and Nehru, and probably you.

Highlight

At last, highlights. Word count: 1772 (personal record).

I’d like to start with my personal favorite, the one I’ve mentioned in the Letters to Iwo Jima review. It’s about lives, human lives.

Many people were disappointed after watching this movie, (mostly Indonesians) and they have the right to. Who on this particular planet laughed at his/her country’s humiliation? Probably separatists, but I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about us (unless you’re a separatist). Us, as in, people that are proud of their motherland. But after several scenes of Soekarno letting his people suffer at the hands of their occupants, personally the bastards that produced this movie took down several notches on my nationalistic spirit.

Not fun. At all. I am totally not amused.

But after several days, I realized that Soekarno did it out of a belief that he had, and I think that is truly remarkable. To let people harshly treat us in order to give a chance to live for the others is quite a gem.

In my eyes, Soekarno let his people suffer for the greater good. He let them suffer rather than to die in a useless open rebellion (useless, because the Japanese’s military force is superior in almost every aspects) to let them have a taste of independence. Of course you can die when you suffer, but that’s a risk Soekarno is willing to take for the greater good of Indonesia.

See it like this: your parents pushed you to study hard so you can get a good score. Your parents know you might be very unhappy towards them and treat them harshly, but for their son (or daughter, I’m not being sexist), they are willing to take a blow.

Soekarno is, in my eyes, a national ‘father’.

Thank you for reading this. I’m looking forward for comments and corrections. Sampai nanti! (Until then!)

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