I don’t know how to parse this film in its entirety, as it’s different from anything else I’ve seen in terms of last year’s films. It’s magic realism by way of Thai socialism, or maybe the other way around. Centering around a mysterious sleeping epidemic that is plaguing Thai soldiers, Weerasethakul’s film revolves around one of his regular acting partners, Jenjira, who limps around on her lame leg to offer aid, eventually befriending one of the sleeping men when he temporarily awakens. She is also seen interacting with a young psychic, and eventually meets the human incarnations of the temple goddesses she worships, who tell her that the epidemic is due to the hospital (formerly a school) standing on the burial ground of ancient kings. These spirits are using the men’s energy to fight their otherworldly battles, and with more construction underway outside the hospital, it does not appear the epidemic will be ending anytime soon—and maybe it never will.
Weerasethakul’s modus operandi seems to require being as oblique as possible, but here I did not mind it so much. If nothing in the diegetic world makes sense to the characters, then I don’t expect the audience to be blessed with revelation. I was content to let the quiet stillness of Weerasethakul’s camera transfix me, and to be jolted by unexpected moments of levity (whether it be a wife confronting a cheating husband via psychic or women giggling at a man’s erection). It’s a funny film, it’s a sly film, it’s profound and poetic, brimming with mercurial wonder and vividness in strange and untrodden corners of consciousness. I am still not fully onboard the Weerasethakul Express, but this brought me close. Maybe Uncle Boonmee or Syndromes will be the final kicker.