A Film Semiotic Analysis on Nagabonar Jadi 2 (Nagabonar Becomes 2)

Berikut adalah essay saya tentang film semiotic, ide besarnya adalah menerawang intertekstualitas pada film-film Indonesia. Analisa pada essay ini masih terbatas oleh jumlah maksimum kata yang boleh ditulis (dikarenakan ini adalah bagian dari tugas akhir film semiotic course yang saya ikuti) tetapi kedepannya akan saya jabarkan lebih lanjut lagi intertekstualitas pada film-film indonesia dengan lebih beragam perspectives selain itu untuk diagram greimas sepertinya tidak tercopy di dalam blog ini karena formatnya PNG. tetapi sebagai gambaran bisa dilihat di http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Semiotic_square1.svg. Anyway, enjoy.



In 2004, Indonesian film public was served by 31 commercial Indonesian films; the growth is more than 100% than a year before[1] and this condition kept growing in the next year. Despite of the influence from the global economy of Hollywood and Bollywood movies, also even though most of the films still presents romance and horror genre, two of the most popular film genres for Indonesian spectators, this progress however can be seen as resurrection of Indonesian film industry after being almost dead for 15 years. The implication for this growing condition emerged new phenomenon of Indonesian films fandom. After all those years being educated by western films, these fans brought their appreciation to Indonesian film screens and began to raise their spectator view to cultic the films. These phenomena imply to the question whether there are cult films in Indonesian films and for me, it brings curiosity of how the film semiotic analysis can be applied for such films. However, the most challenging part is to find which film can represent the condition of Indonesian cult films moreover attractive enough from semiotic and communication point of view.

My decision comes to film Nagabonar Jadi 2 based on several indicators; first, this film is a sequel therefore it has causality and conceptual relation to the first movie. Second, Nagabonar Jadi 2 emerged as a proposal in order to appreciate and communicate representation of new Indonesian nationalism by using the setting of contemporary everyday life condition in Indonesia. Some other films that were premiered almost in the same time with Nagabonar Jadi 2 like Gie (2005) for instance also carried the same theme which was nationalism but indifferent settings and nonetheless only showed portraits of history where character Gie[2] existed. Despite of forced ideology, in my opinion, similar plays also can be seen in 1980’s Indonesia government propaganda films such as Serangan Fajar (Dawn attacks), and G 30/S PKI.

Third, after some read, more or less, two hundreds comments, blogs[3], reviews, e-news and discussion threads in internet of which the range of publication was from March 2007[4] to March 2008 (a year after the film premiered) I found that most of those spectators thought that this film reminded them about nationalism. Nonetheless, even the Indonesian vice president, Jusuf Kalla[5] also admitted that this film had strong nationalism and religiosity message. He is one of the most influential public opinion leaders and also head of the biggest Indonesia political party with more than 30 million constituents therefore his appreciation not only projects Indonesian film public opinion but also himself as a spectator. This essay mainly discusses about intertextuality within Nagabonar Jadi 2 and attempts to bear its narrative meaning using Greimas’ Rectangle, one among other semiotic methods.

About the movie

Nagabonar Jadi 2 (Nagabonar Becomes 2) is a comedy movie starring Deddy Mizwar and Tora Sudiro as the father and the son. This movie is a sequel to 1986 hits movie Nagabonar. The story is still about Nagabonar (Deddy Mizwar), a pickpocket who became a general during independence war. But now Nagabonar lives in the big city with his son Bonaga (Tora Sudiro), a businessman. Along with his three friends, Pomo (Darius Sinathrya), Ronnie (Uli Herdinansyah) and Jaki (Michael Muliadro) they run a big business. Conflict comes when Bonaga wants to sell his father’s palm plantation. Monita (Wulan Guritno) a consultant to Bonaga’s business tries to settle down the conflict between Bonaga and Nagabonar. Some interesting scenes are when Nagabonar gives salute to the statue of General Sudirman, an Indonesia national hero from independence war, his monologue (47:35) with one of Indonesian national song Padamu Negeri (To You, My Country) as the musical background is considered as the peak for the film.

Film Semiotic

Film semiotic has influenced from three persons; Christian Metz, Juri Lotman, and Roland Barthes. The main question in applying semiotic as interpretation method for film is how does the film signify?[1] Since the film talks through conventional signs or according to Metz through film language, therefore the challenge in film semiotic is to find the truth of signification meaning thus being able to say what ‘Exist’ is ‘Truth’. In general terms, Danesi (2002) slightly disagrees with Metz proposition of how film can be viewed as having the same structural features as language. In his opinion, it is more accurate to say that the cinematic text expands the categories of language by blending dialogue, music, scenery, and action in a cohesive way.[2] For this reason, he said, “it can be characterized as a composite sign made up of verbal and non-verbal signifiers.”[3]

Rose (2007, also Kress et.al, 2006) argues that ideology also plays important role to signification prominence. Taking the idea from Williamson (1978) and Barthes (1973), Rose emphasizes on structural spatialization of sign metaphor hence will lead to metonymic[4] and or synecdochal[5] signs. Kress (et.al, 2006) underpins those posits by took Metz (1974a, 1974b) argumentation on visual structuring. He notes that visual structuring has either been treated as simply reproducing the structures of reality rather than as creating meaningful propositions by means of visual syntax, or discussed in formal terms only.[6] Later, Kress said that visual structures do not simply reproduce ‘reality’. On the contrary, they produce images of reality which are bound up with the interest of social institutions within which the images are produced, circulated and read. Visual structures are never merely formal: they have deeply important semantic dimension.

Barthes has pinpointed that once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text, an Author imposes a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.[7] He also mentioned in his fine words; “the birth of the reader must be a cost of the death of author”.[8] This proposition implies that the center of generated meaning no longer in the hand of creator nevertheless being emerged by the text reader. In Structural Analysis of Narratives, Barthes, by mentioning Greimas, also explained text narratives as playing ground for actors (subject-characters) and actants[9] thus the narrative itself becomes the language.[10]

The Greimas’ Rectangle

Algirdas Julien Greimas, a Lithuanian linguistic and semiotician, has proposed a set of logic, based on Aristotle square of opposition, as elementary structure of signification, marking off the oppositional logic that is at the heart of both narrative progression and semantic, thematic, or symbolic content.[11] Lenoir (1994) attempts to give a short brief of Greimas’ proposition as follows:

The semiotic square is a mean of articulating the semantic structure of signification in terms of binary oppositions or alternatives. Greimas emphasizes that the oppositions gave rise to meaning are a far richer set than contradiction, the either/nor of binary logic. Elaborating on three types of relationship– contradiction, contrariety, and complementarity–he established an exhaustive set of oppositions forming a dialectical logic with four positions rather than three, as in Hegelian dialectic. Giving a particular concept–Greimas illustrates its use with an example from Levi-Strauss’s discussion of “life” versus “death” in “The Structural Study of Myth”–one can use the semiotic square to unpack its semantic content by specifying the fields of difference, opposition, and separation in which it is embedded with respect to other concepts.

Greimas describes the square’s fourth position–which I regard as its most engaging aspect–as explosive. Commentators have depicted it as the “negation of the negation” in Hegelian terms; as such, Jameson notes, the fourth position in the square is frequently enigmatic, opening the possibility of a productive leap to the elaboration of a new system of meaning. In his excellent discussion of Greimas’s work, Schleifer has shown how this process works, using the fourth position as the opening to an ever-widening web of “zones of entanglement.” Intuitively, one can see the appeal of the square for practitioners of cultural studies. They hope that the semiotic square will bring to light the webs of signification constituting the meanings of a text; they believe that it may articulate the intertextual linkages between different domains as well as the underlying assumptions organizing particular cultural fields.[12]

The semiotic square consist binary opposition of concepts and its negation based on Hegelian term in dialectica. The relationships are:[1]

  • S1 and S2 : opposition
  • S1 and ~S1, S2 and ~S2 : contradiction
  • S1 and ~S2, S2 and ~S1 : complementarity

The semiotic square also produces, second, so-called meta-concepts, which are compound ones, the most important of which are:

  • S1 and S2
  • neither S1 nor S2

Hence, I will combine this set of semantic logic with the concept of intertextuality which I will take from Umberto Eco article about film Casablanca.

Eco’s Intertextuality

In his ‘cult’ article about film Casablanca, Eco proposed the concept of intertextuality regarding the kind of requirements that can transform a book or a movie into a cult object. “The work must be loved, obviously,” he said. Then, “…but this is not enough. It must provide a completely furnished world so that its fans can quote characters and episodes as if they were aspects of the private sectarian world.” Later he bares the concept of ‘common frame’ and ‘inter-textual frames’ as the visual narrative variables in order to analyze films.

What he meant by ‘common frame’ was “a sequence of actions more or less coded by our normal experience”,[2] and by ‘inter-textual frames’ he said “I meant stereotyped situation derived from proceeding and recording by our encyclopedia, such as, …duel between the sheriff and the bad guy or the narrative situation in which the hero fought the villain and won….”.[3] Moreover, he proposed, instead of just recognized conventional inter-textual frames, audience apt to find more ‘magical flavors’ in a film. Those ‘magical flavors’ which are been textualized in film frames indeed transform a movie, such Casablanca, into a cult object. Although he admitted in Casablanca, there were more inter-textual frames, what he later called ‘inter-textual archetypes’, than ‘magic’ inter-textual frames.[4]


As has been mentioned by Eco, intertextuality emerges from our ‘encyclopedia’ of textuality therefore one must bear their own frame of references first before they put identification as to which text does a film scene relate to. In film Nagabonar Jadi 2, due to my lack of Indonesian film references probably, I am quite surprised that I could not find as much intertextuality as I expected. Some do, but some don’t, most of scenes I would consider it merely common frames. Indeed some are conflicts and present something which profoundly interesting enough because historical plot of the film but mostly do not emerge sense of ‘magic’ or even specters, something which reminds me to something. However, for scenes which I consider have some intertextuality within it, I note my observation chronologically by time.

1. (02:30) Nagabonar’s monolog in front of his family graveyard.

2. (16:00) Nagabonar coaxes Bonaga to allow him to caressing Bonaga’s hair while he is sleeping. It’s an obtuse meaning for me and reminds me of Tora Sudiro (Bonaga) gay character in film Arisan (2003).

3. (31:27) Umar, a ‘bajaj’ taxi driver takes Nagabonar back to his house after being ‘lost’ in Jakarta. Umar character, played by Lukman Sardi, as a poor man also has a same position in Pengemis & Tukang Becak (1978) aka The Beggar and the Rickshaw Man.

4. (40:00) Nagabonar gives salute to the monument of Indonesia founding fathers.

5. (47:35) Nagabonar’s second monolog in front of monument of General Sudirman, an Indonesia national hero from independence war, in the middle of one of Jakarta’s main way, the Sudirman Street. He also gives salute to the statue. In a glimpse it reminds me of Andre Stinky monolog with god in Kiamat Sudah Dekat (2003), a film which Deddy Mizwar (Nagabonar) directed and also played as one of the main actors.

6. (75:00) Negotiation between Japanese investors and Bonaga’s team to sell his father palm plantation. Bonaga does not tell Nagabonar yet about the buyer of his plantation

7. (79:45) Nagabonar’s furious when he knows that the buyer is Japanese. Japan was the last country which occupied Indonesia after The Dutch.

8. (93:35) Nagabonar gives salute in independence war heroes’ cemetery.

9. (102:38) Monita kisses Bonaga. It reminds me whan Kirana (Bonaga’s mother) kiss Nagabonar in the first film, Nagabonar. The same faith?

10. (108:45) flapping the national flag ceremony with an Indonesia anthem as the musical background, in this scene Nagabonar wears his ‘general’ hat and for the fourth time he gives salute. Every Monday morning, every public and government institution in Indonesia obligates to conduct this ceremony from 7 to 8 AM.

11. (111:15) Bonaga turn out the selling contract from the Japanese investors after he’s got news that his father injured after the flag ceremony. In this scene, bonaga, monita, umar, and three friends of bonaga gather near nagabonar bed. All of them wear white shirt except nagabonar himself.

An interesting dialog, often said in the film, is the sentence “Apa Kata Dunia?” (What the world would say?). For those who have watched film Nagabonar they will recall this jargon as part of Nagabonar character itself. This jargon semanticly has been used by Batak tribe, a tribe in north of sumatera island (Indonesia) where Nagabonar originate from, in their own dialect to express their ignorance about the condition around them. Dignity is the main value of human existence nevertheless for the people from this tribe; they are very concern about what their surroundings will think about them. Therefore, to Nagabonar this sentence is a way for him to express his awareness about what would happen if he becomes ignorant. I am not saying that other tribes in Indonesia do not have any expression about this, but what Nagabonar says uniquely represents his cultural background and Indonesian spectators understandably capture this proposition.

Now, after capturing intertextuality in this film, the big question is what does this film stand for? What is the grand narrative this film attempts to emerge in the eye of spectators? Well, two things are clear—if I referred to what Barthes said about ‘obvious meaning’—obvious which are when gave Nagabonar salutes and the flag ceremony. In the film, spectator been brought back and forth between the present and who was Nagabonar. The first monolog in his family graveyard, his visits to the statues of the founding fathers, his meeting with Maryam—an old friend from independence war, and more over is his salutes. A salute is not something you do instantly or instinctively, when you give salute you give your respect and for Nagabonar respect is same like dignity, his born with it, he lives with it and he will die for it.

Salute also becomes conventional sign in this film. As in other nationalistic films like Air Force One for instance, Saving Private Ryan, or even Men of Honor, we are moved when we see the actor gives salute to whatever he saluted for, it’s could be flag, monument, an army or even to a dog. The acts become cult because everyone in this world knows what a salute means, indeed there are many forms of salute but they have a same meaning, a respect. Thus salute rise as a synecdoche along with flapping the national flag, sign of nationalism. From this point, I find four narrative propositions as (S1) nationalism, (S2) anti-nationalism, (~S1) non anti-nationalism, and (~S2) non nationalism. These narratives disseminate within Nagabonar Jadi 2 and spectators can see as long as the film;

Another interesting scene is when Monita kisses Bonaga, for spectators who do not see the first sequel, he or she would feel it’s just a common kiss, nothing more nothing less. However, one who has seen film Nagabonar would feel repetition because such an act also happened to Nagabonar. It is different actors and settings, how could one consider it as a repetition? Indeed they are indifferent in sense of text appearance but they have the same context. In the first film, Nagabonar was told as a person who has problems getting along with woman—as some men do, he has a problem expressing his feelings to Kirana (Bonaga’s mother) that’s why Kirana kisses Nagabonar. The same situation also emerges in Monita-Bonaga relationship. This is like an idiom, “like father like son”.


Nagabonar Jadi 2 indeed has some intertextuality with other films, especially Indonesian films, but needless to say it has ‘magic’ intertextuality since those scenes are not profoundly enough. There is neither a magic door nor a key like in Eco’s analysis on Casablanca but there are some unique scenes where the spectator will feel inter-relation between Nagabonar Jadi 2 and its predecessor, Nagabonar. Using Greimas’ Rectangle I found four propositions of narrative within the film which are nationalism, anti-nationalism, non nationalism, and non anti-nationalism. Salutes and flapping the national flag are the synecdoche of nationalism in this film. However, Nagabonar Jadi 2 is not a cult film as many of the scenes can be illuminated by its first sequel and not the other way around. Thus it is not ‘magic’ enough to be loved.

[2] The translation version of Eco’s work regarding this matter was in Eco, U. (1986). “Casablanca”: Cult Movies and Intertextual Collage. In U. Eco, Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays (p. 197). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. However, quotation I taken was from selected articles in BFM Film Semiotics class (spring 2008) reading requirements and nevertheless it was same article from different books. Page 396.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. I also took these paragraphs from my previous paper about Eco’s intertextuality and cult films phenomena. My intention was to put that article about cult film as part of this article nevertheless perhaps I can combine it in the future work.

[1] I found such proposition during my study in Dr. James Thurlow film semiotic class in spring 2008 at BFM School Tallinn, Estonia, very interesting class indeed.

[2] (Danesi, 2002) page 122-128.

[3] Ibid.

[4] This kind of sign is something associated with something else, that then represents something else. See (Rose, 2007) page 87.

[5] This sign is either a part of something standing in for a whole, or a whole representing a part. See ibid.

[6] (Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen, 2006) page 47.

[7] The original text is in (Barthes, Image-Music-Text, 1977) however, quotation that I took was from selected articles in BFM Film Semiotics class (spring 2008) reading requirements. page 147.

[8] Ibid.

[9] An “actant” is not simply a character in a story, but an integral structural element upon which the narrative revolves. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actant.

[10] Barthes, Roland. A Barthes Reader. Ed. Susan Sontag. New York: Hill and Wang, 1982 in BFM Film Semiotics class (spring 2008) selected readings.

[11] Felluga, Dino. “Modules on Greimas: On the Semiotic Square.” Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. See http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/narratology/modules/greimas square.html retrieved on May 9th, 2008.

[12] Lenoir, Timothy (1994) Was That Last Turn A Right Turn? The Semiotic Turn and A.J. Greimas, Configurations, Vol.2. 119-136.

[1] Kompas, Sepuluh Tahun Terakhir Perfiman Indonesia (Indonesian films in the last ten years), July 2nd, 2005.

[2] Gie character was taken from real Indonesian activist name that was lived in Jakarta around 60’s and 70’s.

[3] Most of the blogs only told about experience they had after watched the film however some blogs also gave critics and good reviews on films such as (in Indonesian language); http://ericsasono.multiply.com/reviews/ item/40, and http://biangpenasaran.blogspot.com/2007/06/marketing-nagabonar-jadi-2.html

[4] The official film date of publish was March 29th, 2007.


Satu respons untuk “A Film Semiotic Analysis on Nagabonar Jadi 2 (Nagabonar Becomes 2)

  1. Ping-balik: hegelian dialectic

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