Uncle Boonmee, Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
After the peaceful, slow building series of shots that open Uncle Boonmee, we come to a scene with the titular character, dying of some kind of kidney disorder, sitting down to dinner with his loved ones. And then come the movies first two surprises. First, Boonmee’s dead wife Huay arrives in the form of a ghost. The family accepts this easily enough; Boonmee’s nephew calmly offers her some tea. And then Boonmee’s lost son Boomsong arrives looking like some kind of red-eyed Wookie. This is slightly more startling, but Boomsong’s family calmly allows him to explain just what the hell is going on. Boomsong has spent the last few years of his life perusing this strange ape-like species, primitive and forgotten about by modern man. Through his pursuit of a creature of the past, Boomsong has become one of them.
This scene is disarming in how strange it is in the abstract, but how natural it seems to the characters. Their peaceful reactions allow us to focus on director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s intentions, which seem to suggest a thinning, blurry line between the living and the dead, the past and the present. After this scene, Boonmee contemplates his past lives and we see him travel deep into the past as he also travels forward to death’s door. In this sense, this is a spiritual Thai cousin to The Tree of Life (it’s worth noting that like that film, Uncle Boonmee won the Palme d’Or last year).
That’s not to say it doesn’t have it’s challenges, and I’m not talking about the strange, surreal but quite remarkable scenes of red-eyed Wookie clans walking through peaceful jungles, or a Catfish having sex with a woman. It’s more the films pace that might be hard to swallow for some viewers. It’s worth it though; this is a movie like no other and it has a beauty and a charm that can’t be beat. I must confess that I wish I’d seen other films in the Primitive collection (this being the last) to gauge how well the whole project came together as a whole, and how Uncle Boonmee caps the whole thing off. But I’m not really complaining. Uncle Boonmee is evocative of a peaceful, wondrous, pleasant dream and whenever the pace started to feel a bit drawn out, there was an image that was surprising, funny, charming and completely unique. Give Uncle Boonmee a chance and it may just get you feeling better about what waits for you once you past through the last of life’s door.