Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Apr/110

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)

Uncle Boonmee is playing in select locations and is available on DVD from ambitious local video stores.

ANDREW LIKEI just want a light show when I die, or a small parade.  Even if no one else can see it I want to be with everyone I've loved, watch some fireworks go off, and then go on to whatever state of consciousness is required of me.  I try and be a good person so that God, or my unconscious, or whatever it is that makes these decisions will grant me that one request.

After watching Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (a beautifully evocative title) I have to wonder if my approach is unhealthily selfish.  Here is a movie about a man who knows that he is going to die and chooses introspection and peace, allowing whatever ghosts may be out there to come to him instead of seeking them out himself.  It's a refreshing twist to the old ghost formula because, as Boonmee's dead wife Huay puts it, "Ghosts aren't attracted to places, but to people.  To the living."  For once, neither the living nor the dead are making demands of the other and both simply exist together because that is simply how things work.

Uncle Boonmee watches old Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) as his kidneys slowly fail and he slips into the memories of his past lives.  In the present world he is aided by Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) and the monk Thong (Sakda Kaewbuadee) who keep Boonmee clean and drain his body as needed.  One night he receives his first visit from Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) while they are all sitting around for dinner.  The way she is introduced is indicative of director Apichatpong Weerasethakul's meditative style.  The chair is empty and slowly, almost imperceptibly, the space is filled with her form over the course of several minutes.  It's as though she has never left Boonmee, and only now that he is so close to death can he detect her presence again.

Boonmee is also visited by the spirit of his son Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong), who has become one of the dark ape-like spirits that are attracted to the dying and watch the action from a distance.  Boonsong, as well as the other characters, each get to tell their story.  Weerasethakul does not rush to get to these moments, instead establishing each characters relationship first to nature, then to their current state, and then how their past brought them to this moment.

For a movie that avoids any grand statements and emotions, I was struck by how simple and beautiful Boonmee and Huay's love was.

The movie establishes such a peaceful philosophy of living and storytelling that describing the film hardly does it's meditative nature justice.  The opening scene has a nod of sorts to the magnificent opening shot of Bela Tarr's film Satantango.  It's a gorgeous sequence, making excellent use of the jungle surrounding and using a bull's slow escape to highlight just how short the distance is between our human concerns and what we normally call the animal world.

Weerasethakul highlights how short this distance is all the time.  Rather than using it as a parable of our hopeless animal instincts or evolution, he accepts that this is how things are and offers subtle suggestions on how we make peace with this.  It's a very peculiar tone, where we're constantly aware of the undercurrent of nature that can take us at any moment, all while suggesting the very real love that exists between us and our environment.

Our sensations have become dull because of too much pleasure.  In the natural world, we sense the rhythm and pulse of nature while bringing us all closer together in celebration.  In the modern world, pleasure is easier to come by but overwhelms us to the point where we are able to disregard any other spiritual or moral considerations are drowned out in the tone of pure experience.  Weerasethakul is able to suggest all this in a single shot of a man taking a shower, and the entire film is filled with such philosophical suggestions.

Death, instinct, nature. Call it what you will, but try to make peace with it because it's never far behind.

He does not reach for affect.  Instead he just let's the environments speak to us and only allow commentary from the characters when it's completely necessary.  This sometimes means gorgeously meditative shots following the path of a river to a waterfall, where a princess learns an important lesson about perception.  Or when we watch Boonmee tend to his bees and he wonders why he deserves to see his wife again after the things that he did as a soldier.

Uncle Boonmee put me into a meditative state.  Its filled with so many ideas and emotions presented in such a quiet way that I didn't realize how dulled my senses had become by other films.  Maybe it's not so good to want fireworks when I die.  I want the same measure of peace Boonmee attains, and the tranquil rebirth that comes with it.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
Written and directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
Starring  Thanapat Saisaymar.

Posted by Andrew

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