Once in a year, at the end of Ramadan month, most urban settlers in Indonesia will embark on a traditional (sometimes deemed religious) homecoming a.k.a. mudik to their hometown in order to spend the Eid with their big family. Oftentimes, people travel overland—creating an endless traffic that makes an 8-hour drive a day and sometimes doubles down a day trip. Fatigue and frustration follow them along the way, but most people will ignore; for the long of home—as in home is where the heart is—overpowers the challenge. It’s no different for Firman (Ibnu Jamil) and Aida (Putri Ayudya), a young married couple that becomes the center of Adriyanto Dewo’s Mudik. However, this year’s mudik is the one that will change their lives forever.
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The couple plans to arrive at Firman’s parents’ home on the Eid’s eve; but, eventually, it’s a long journey home (again, as in home is where the heart is) for the couple. While not explicitly mentioned, it’s apparent that their marriage is on the rock. A series of events and revelations have soured their relationship—making them uncomfortable just to be together in one place. The conflict escalates when Aida, driving the car in the dead of night, gets involved in a car accident that eventually kills a man. Drive by guilt, Aida forces the reluctant Firman to take responsibilities for her recklessness and meet the widowed Santi (Asmara Abigail). Unbeknownst to the couple, this encounter will lead them to a new perspective and unravel the rotting pains they have swept under the rug.
Adriyanto Dewo (Tabula Rasa) delivers an intense low-key drama which tension gradually arises the further the protagonists left their starting point. As the Aida’s shell begins to unravel and her suppressed emotion starts to boil over, Ayudya floods the screen with her unrivaled screen presence—a woman that has been forced to feel like a woman by the society she’s living in. Abigail’s Santi becomes the catalyst as she also reveals to Aida how it feels to become as invisible as a woman. However, Mudik does not spill the tension and slips into a cheap melodrama in the process. The plot has never actually sped up to finally arrive to the climax; instead, it’s filled with a series of uncomfortably silent moments and frustration, just like the reality of mudik itself.
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The narrative juxtaposes in unison with the allegory and the social commentary of mudik as a phenomenon. Again, the characters are looking to get to home—the inner sanctum where they actually belong; therefore, they embark on this voyage that instead leads them to discover where the proverbial hearts actually belong. When the car accident happens, Aida, Firman, and Santi suddenly find themselves tangled in a perplexed, one-way journey. There’s one body count—Santi’s husband, but that’s where it ends. Someone who was once a man is dead and gone; then becomes a mere number that will end up as a report on the news or, for some people, as a cash-in opportunity. Mudik almost goes on making the death just another number or device at one point. Yet, at one point, even when if it feels out of place, the death becomes poetically meaningful when Santi reveals her secret to Aida about her condition. There’s something wicked in the revelation and it eerily resounds even when it only buzzes for a while.
Even at the direst moment, Mudik sets dead ahead, confronting distressing events one by one and making sure the audiences feel nervous and uneasy in every turn. The more turn the plot takes, the more we learn about Firman and Aida’s backstories; the more we learn about it, the more the story feels painful. With Indra Perkasa’s elusive scoring orchestrated at the background, we would eventually see how Mudik, like the homecoming it refers to, is a relentless, intense, and exhausting journey to the place where the heart truly is—even when it’s not the place that enlightens us as a human being.