Summary of the Movie "Jose Rizal"

by Michael Davidson

Jose Rizal was a Filipino activist who was executed by the Spanish military Dec. 30, 1896. His death made him a martyr in the minds and hearts of many religious sects, and his views of nonviolent dissent were publicly embraced by the U.S. government. In 1998, Rizal's story was immortalized on film in "Jose Rizal," directed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya.

The Opening

The movie begins in 1891 with Jose Rizal, played by Cesar Montano, as an established author and linguist who speaks more than 20 languages. He vows to write about the sufferings of the Filipino people under the tyranny of Spanish rule, and about their abuse by corrupt priests. Rizal's writings galvanize the Filipino people but earn the scorn of the Spanish government, which vows to crush the rebellion of the Filipinos.

The Search for Rizal

The Spanish military capture and torture Jose's brother Paciano, played by Pen Medina, to determine Jose's role in the rebellion. During a flashback, Jose says Paciano greatly influenced him by exposing him to the injustice going on in the Philippines. Paciano is released after his interrogation and returns to Manila, where the family plans to go on the run. An order is given to arrest Jose Rizal on sight.


The movie cuts back to Jose's childhood, when he was called Pepe. When he is a child, his mother is falsely arrested for attempted murder and jailed for two years. He gets attention from educators early on for his intelligence and writing prowess. As a young man, he criticizes a college professor for stating that Spaniards are superior to Filipinos. Filipino students start fighting Spanish students after Jose starts raising the issue of Filipino independence. Cutting back to 1896, Jose is captured and put on trial, and his books are banned.

The Rise and Fall

The film then cuts back and forth between Jose's rise as a revolutionary and his fall from grace during his trial. As a student, Rizal spent significant time in Madrid but then became disgusted with Spain's occupation of Filipino land and Spanish treatment of Filipino citizens. The mayor of Madrid is arrested and discredited for having a Rizal book. A violent revolt breaks out in 1896, which Jose does not support because he sees it as mass suicide. Going back to the trial, enormous pressure is put upon Jose's defense attorneys, with critics branding them as traitors for defending the rebel.


It is revealed in a flashback that Jose had fathered a child that had died soon after birth, adding to his inner turmoil as he buried his only son. In the trial, his books are examined and criticized for their pro-Filipino stance against Spanish imperialists. He is found guilty of staging a rebellion through his speaking and writing, and he's condemned to death by firing squad. He sneaks a poem to his family before his execution, and he yells "It is done!" A full-blown rebellion is soon under way. Two years later, in 1898, the Filipino flag is lifted triumphantly as the citizens celebrate their independence.