I have 471 movies in my Netflix Instant queue. I tend to watch one thing for every five that I add, but now my library is close to being full and I have to make room. So, every Monday I’m going to pick a random movie out of my queue and review the shit out of it. But (like Jesus), I’m also thinking of you and your unwieldy queue and all the movies in it you want to watch but no longer have the time to now that you’ve become so awesome and popular. Let me know what has been gathering digital dust in your Netflix Instant library and I’ll watch that, too. One Monday for you and the next for me and so on. Let’s get to it.
What’s the movie? Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)
What’s it rated? Unrated for languid pacing, cross-species sexual transgressions and the power of metaphor.
Did people make it? Written and Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Acted by Thanapat Saisaymar, Jenjira Pongpas, Sakda Kaewbuadee, Natthakarn Aphaiwonk, Geerasak Kulhong and Kanokporn Tongaram.
What’s it like in one sentence? A meditation on death and the afterlife through the lens of Buddhist thought and philosophy.
Why did you watch it? Chewer Gabe T. (correctly) described it as elegant, so I had to give it a go.
What’s it about in one paragraph? Boonmee is dying of liver failure. His sister-in-law Jen, as well as a few other family members, come out to stay with him at his remote bee farm in the jungles of Thailand. Their first night together, Boonmee is visited by the ghosts of his wife and his son, who both have interesting things to say about death and the life one has after it. After his visitation, the film becomes more of a tone poem than a strictly narrative feature, as we float through Boonmee’s remembrances of his past lives and the relationships he has with the dead and the living.
Play or remove from my queue? It honestly depends on your mood. Boonmee is one of the most gorgeous movies I have ever sat through, but it’s also one of the slowest and most contemplative. I love films that allow you to decide what it’s all about and whether or not you’re even focused on the right aspects of its structure, but I just wasn’t in the right place for this movie. It might be because I’ve been watching my Grandfather die excruciatingly slowly, but I wasn’t in the mood to see a film that made death look like something to approach without fear or reservation. He’s not afraid of death, he’s afraid of life lasting much longer and I can’t blame him. The feelings that I had while watching Boonmee were not the film’s fault, I’m just at a place right now where I’m feeling cynical about death and watching a film that finds it mysterious and triumphant tended to rub me the wrong way. I want to give this film another shot when I’m in a better place because so much of Boonmee is gorgeous and inviting but I couldn’t see the forest for the trees and what a forest it is.
Seriously, the jungle photography in this is the best I’ve seen since The Thin Red Line. Everything feels so lush and lived in and authentic, that I wonder how much of this was shot through location scouting and scripting. The photography is so organic and fresh that improvisation seems like the only way it all could have been captured so flawlessly. If this film had a story that I could have connected to at this point in my life, it would easily be in my top ten of last year. I know critics are supposed to view shit objectively, but this movie seems designed to be taken in as feelings and emotion and not as a film to pick apart and dismantle. Viewing it in that light, all I can be is subjective about it and say that to everyone this movie will be different. To some it will be a horror movie and to others it will be a fable about the fragility of life. To me it was about the moment we die and all the moments leading up to it exist to prepare you for it and I’m just not sure I’m feeling very Buddhist today.
As it stands, I feel like I’m standing on the outside, appreciating the technique and cinematography of the piece, but without feeling invested in it, emotionally or spiritually. I have a feeling that if I watch it in a year’s time then I might have a completely different reaction to it, however, this time my reaction is that of emotional distance and a feeling of emptiness. I want to be on the inside and gain a hunk of catharsis to chew on, or at least feel like I watched a complete life unfold before me and I just didn’t get that this time. Maybe next year.
Do you have an interesting fun-fact? According to the director, one of the central themes of Uncle Boonmee is “the transformation and possible extinction of cinema itself.” That’s a fascinating conceit for a film and I’m curious if anyone else who has seen the film caught onto those themes. I want to join the club.
What does Netflix say I’d like if I like this? Still Walking (a wonderful little Japanese film about grief), The Bothersome Man (sounds interesting so it’s added to the queue), Eros (is that the one with Harry Potter and the horse fucking?), The Overture (a drama about the musical instrument known as the ranard-ek. I’m in) and Tell No One (best foot chase ever).
What does Jared say I’d like if I like this? This doesn’t really remind me of anything else I’ve ever seen. I guess if you like Uncle Boonmee then you’ll like any film that approaches story and plot as metaphor instead of action.
What is Netflix’s best guess for Jared? 3.6
What is Jared’s best guess for Jared? 3.0
Can you link to the movie? I sure can!
Any last thoughts? It’s beautiful but left me empty like an enema in an art gallery. I wanted to like it so much more. It just didn’t fully reach me.
Did you watch anything else this week? Cowboys & Aliens, which was painfully average in every way except for Clancy Brown who made a small (almost throwaway) role into the heart of the picture.
Next Week? It’s your pick but I’d like to also throw Passion Play (for masochistic reasons), Zombie Farm (for stupid reasons) and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (for art house reasons) into the ring. Or surprise me with something awesome.