Thursday, July 14, 2011

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives: Movie Review

There may be something to this appealing but disturbing and possibly offensive film.

With a mystifying title like "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", it begs viewers to be open to transcendental ideas like the belief of past lives, forms of the spiritual world, and the transformation of the human world, the animal world and nature. I am usually open to those kinds of perceptions, at least in the world of film. When this film took those forms, I could at least appreciate it, if not understand it. 2010

Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Screenplay by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Starring: Thanapat Saisaymar

Understanding such a film is not something that can ever be accomplished based on the many different meanings and also structure-less paths the film takes. There are those well versed in Thai culture and spiritual symbolism that can probably provide themselves with a little bit of meaning. For the rest of us, it's an oddly appealing, strangely disturbing, and at times, downright offensive experience.

The plot itself is surprisingly mostly explainable. Boonmee is dying of kidney failure and he is taken to live out his final days with friends and relatives at a country farm. Suddenly, he is visited by the spirit of his long-deceased wife in a mostly human, part ghost-like form, and then visited by his long-lost son in an animal form. That is about where I lost track of what I was seeing. If willing to think in purely existential, spiritual philosophies, the rest were likely visualizations of what Boonmee thinks the internal thoughts and feelings of his life would take if they were in human, animal or nature forms.

There was occasional dialogue. At the beginning Boonmee was defending a Laotian man, upon whom his sister-in-law assumed many negative racial stereotypes. Some viewers found this racist and were offended. But I personally I have no idea what the filmmaker was saying. A later scene had Boonmee upset about the role he played in the war, and again some unorthodox statements were made about killing people in the name of war. It is rare that a scene in a film will offend me, but that was accomplished here. In a scene involving a princess, a waterfall, and a catfish, I was physically disgusted by how they chose to show whatever they were trying to say (I have no idea what they were trying to say). The A.V. Club referred to this as the notorious catfish scene, and it's good to know I'm not the only one who took offense. But Roger Ebert called it "romantic", and we clearly have different definitions of that word.

Despite my objections to scenes, or the lack of understanding of almost all of it, what "Uncle Boonmee" did have throughout was visual flair. It was almost easy to watch because of the intrigue and air of magical surprise that it always held with the beautiful shots of the forest at night and red eyes staring out at you and the never-ending sounds of summer insects.

I earnestly watched "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" with rapt-attention and interest and there might be something to it, but it will take a better person than me to find it.


The Tree of Life (2011) - Life told through astounding images of nature and beyond.