Movie Review: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

29 Sep

uncle boonmee


Uncle Boonmee has the reputation of a difficult film, but I did not really find it all that difficult at all–yes, it requires adjustment to watch, but no more than a sort of intellectual equivalent to adjusting to a dark room or 3d glasses.   A common complaint on the net is how slow the movie is, but that’s part of it–it’s like complaining that a Thanksgiving dinner is not as easy as ordering at Mcdonalds.

Uncle Boonmee is not a linear narrative, but it’s a narrative none-the-less, where Boonmee’s family joins him on his honey farm as he dies of kidney disease.   The closer he gets to death the more fantastic the story gets, blurring the lines between mundane and visionary.   In fact, the great theme of this movie is how the boundaries of all things are not clearly defined in reality.  It’s the human mind that makes distinctions between every day life and revelation.    So the slow progression which has ghosts and ape people show up and interact quite normally is more bizarre to our western minds than someone acting surprised and screaming or something.

This film does not have the camera being our “eyes” which is the way we are used to watching films.  Rather the film is meant to act as our mind, mimicking the action of thought itself, so of course ghosts show up, a story of a princess and a fish intrudes, one person is doing two opposite things at the same time.   While showing the lack of boundaries in the world, this film is showing us also how fallible the human mind is.   We cannot even begin to conceive half the things around us, yet we still label them as ordinary.

The last act of the movie is like a jolt, for after witnessing this death, we go back into the city which is filled with sights and sounds and noise, while also seeming a little sterile after all the nature imagery at the farm.   Nature here is threatening to people–even as they are part of nature, you see Jen (Boonmee’s sister-in-law) step on bugs quite deliberately, and the jungle at night filled with glowing eyes.   Nature is threatening because it’s a place of transformation, and humans are hardwired to want things to stay the same.   So the city is a blinking, skittering, land of distraction even as the spaces become less and less organic.

The movie leads to a bunch of questions which it refuses to answer–this is why some audiences get frustrated with this film.    As Uncle Boonmee recedes into nature, even with his fears of being forgotten, the movie does not say whether this is a tragedy or not.   Perhaps it’s a silly fear, because everybody and everything will be forgotten eventually.

What I must mention is how beautifully shot this film is.  There’s whole stretches where image after image just is so rich and beautiful, a huge feat for a movie that had no CGI.

I highly recommend this film, for those with an open mind.   If you’re looking for a popcorn flick this one is not for you.  If you’re looking for a thoughtful piece of art, you will be in for a treat.

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