A Conversation With ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’

I’m not expecting an afterlife.

Compelling evidence for such an eventuality is lacking, so I’d rather focus on living a good life in the here and now.

However, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of reincarnation. If there is an afterlife, it makes more sense to me that life energy, so to speak, would go from entity to entity rather than hanging out some place for eternity like the popular concept of Heaven.

And this slight prologue brings me to “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”:

It’s the story of a man who is experiencing kidney failure, and his life is coming to a close. Oh yes, and he can recall his past lives, which have included animal incarnations.

The Thai film took home the top prize from Cannes in 2010, and I’ve been wanting to see it ever since. I found it to be worth the wait.

The film is profound, meditative, non-linear and, yes, strange.

In fact, it’s the strangeness of it that I’ve enjoyed sharing with friends all weekend.

“There are these red-eyed monkeys, and one approaches the dinner table. Boonmee discovers that it is his long-lost son! He mated with a monkey spirit and is now a monkey himself! Oh, and let me tell you about this randy catfish that makes love to a princess …”

Let’s just say that it has made for some entertaining conversations and conjured up some interest in the film. But obviously this isn’t a movie for everyone. For those who expect narrative and action in their films, I doubt “Uncle Boonmee” would hold their interest for 10 minutes. You’ve been warned.

But for those who like to be challenged by film and don’t mind ambiguity, this is a very rewarding piece of art that certainly earned its Cannes accolades.

I thought a review at DVD Outsider summed things up nicely:

The camera style is unobtrusively observational and the pace sedate, and the two lead characters are played by non-professionals, neither of whom are exactly expressive on camera. It’s the sort of film that gets labelled pretentious by people who don’t understand what the word actually means, and at least one IMDb contributor complained that it is in some way amateurish in its execution. I couldn’t disagree more. Unhurried it may be, but Boonmee is a precision-made film whose every shot, pause and gentle exchange has been crafted with purpose – just watch how the shadow falls on Boonmee’s body after his death and tell me that wasn’t designed to have metaphoric meaning. The result is a true rarity, a film that even someone as non-religious as myself can call without a hint of irony a genuinely spiritual work.

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