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An Experiment in Ambiguity: How Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Memory” Blurred the Lines Between Reality and Dreams for Chinese Audiences

  Movies in the world can be roughly divided into two categories, one is agglomerative and the other is divergent. Agglomeration films have a perspective, a focus, and either a story to tell or a point of view to express. This type of movie is so full of information that it demands your full attention, and every missing piece prevents you from completing the whole puzzle. So, before watching them, it’s best to go to the bathroom, wash your face and keep yourself awake.
  Divergent films don’t have as strong a sense of purpose. They lack perspective, they lack focus; of course they throw all sorts of information at you, but the connections are so thin that if you can connect them into meaningful patterns, that’s obviously great; if you can’t , and that doesn’t matter, because that’s not the whole point of the movie. Divergent movies don’t mind you taking detours, because there is no so-called correct way. Divergent movies also don’t mind if you fall asleep during the viewing. Divergent cinema simply asks you to experience it as a whole. You can wander off, fall asleep, and lose some details, but it doesn’t hurt. As long as you are willing to accept the whole and at the same time be willing to be wrapped by the whole.
  There are still some people in the world who insist on making the latter kind of movies. Tsai Ming-liang’s films are divergent films (“Outing”), many of Abbas’s films are divergent films (“Princess Shirin” and “24 Frames”), and some of Gus Van Sant’s films are also divergent films (“Elephant”, “Gary”, “The Last Days”). The most influential master of divergence at the moment is Thailand’s Palme d’Or award-winning director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Probably no one had thought before that one day his films would be screened on a large scale in domestic theaters.
  But this miracle happened. With the promotion of producer Jia Zhangke, iQiyi Pictures and Beijing Contemporary Art Foundation, Apichatpong’s new work “Memory” (2021) has really landed in domestic theaters, making China the world’s largest box office for the film . In the past three weeks since its release, “Memory” has earned a domestic box office of 2.35 million yuan, with a total of 50,000 audiences. This is not a decent figure for a commercial film, but for a pure art film like “Memory”, it is a miracle.
  So have the audience paid for the experience they want? I can’t speak for the rest of the audience, but for me, escaping the hustle and bustle of the metropolis for a surround-sound immersive experience of the Colombian rainforest in a theater playing Apichatpong movies is also, in a way, a Well worth the price of spiritual therapy. As for whether I fell asleep? Must have slept for a while. Then did I understand? Obviously not. But does it matter?
  Obviously, “Memory” belongs to the divergent type of film mentioned above. Its plot has a clear reason, the protagonist has a clear journey, and the director also provides the audience with a series of clues during this journey. As for whether these are related to the core mystery, can they establish a logical connection to lead to a clear The answer is a matter of opinion. Perhaps the charm of this movie does not lie in the process of solving the puzzle, but rather in the ambiguous relationship between the scattered clues.
  The film opens with the neurotic struggles of the English protagonist Jessica (Tilda Swinton), living in Colombia. In her sleep, Jessica heard a loud noise from a strange time and space. Even after she woke up, the loud noise still struck at any time. She wanted to find the source of the sound and provide an explanation for her abnormal state.
  However, as Jessica’s quest for sound deepens, the truth about it becomes increasingly murky. She found a sound engineer to help, and the sound effect engineer successfully restored the voice in her auditory hallucinations and mixed it in the single she produced, but when Jessica returned to the recording studio to find the sound effect engineer, She was told by those present that there had never been such a person here.
  Jessica passes the archeology lab. In it, she sees the exhumed skull of an ancient girl whose brain had been gouged out as an experiment in an exorcism ritual. Could it be that the loud noise came from the memory of the ancient girl’s head being pierced? But Jessica seemed to hear something more from it. In this memory, an unknown village was attacked, and children of unknown gender were asked by their parents to hide under the bed. What is he/she avoiding? A monster invading the village, or a government army suppressing the revolution?

  What’s even more strange is that after the auditory hallucinations occurred, Jessica’s memory also went wrong. Her younger sister fell into a coma due to illness, and the few words she said when she was awake for a short time told her memories that were both real and illusory. But after the younger sister recovered, the two sisters had different memories of some events and the life and death of some friends. Did Jessica mistook her sister’s dream talk for reality, or did Jessica’s memory really break down, and the visible and invisible worlds were mixed together in her mind?
  It is so charming that there is a seemingly invisible connection between the scattered clues. Apichatpong will not give exact answers to the problems the protagonist faces, because in his cognition, the world is not one-dimensional, but multi-dimensional. The present and the past, the living and the ghosts are always in the same place. Interdependence and symbiosis in space. It’s just that the latter is difficult to see with the eyes, so one can only try to detect it with the senses and inquire with the heart. When we are sincere enough, the appearance of memory like fossils in geological deposits will partially appear in front of us.
  But going to a foreign country to shoot still caused some dissatisfaction in Apichatpong. Colombia has a unique atmosphere, but it is far inferior to Thailand, which has a Buddhist culture, in terms of the mystery of its temperament. A certain kind of psychic inspiration that Apichatpong relies on for survival is relatively ineffective in this land. As for the political criticism implicitly expressed by Apichatpong in many previous works with the help of mystic plots, it can also be established in Colombia, a country with a history of authoritarian government, but the cultural gap between them is still obvious. Therefore, the director doesn’t seem to know how to end the whole story. The UFO shot that clearly pays tribute to Jia Zhangke’s “The Good Man in Three Gorges” doesn’t seem to come from the texture of the film itself, but more like a well-designed cold joke.
  Even so, no one can deny that “Memory” is a unique experience for Chinese audiences in 2023. In the current theater environment, how many times have we been able to distract ourselves without having to follow a traditional story, and how many times have we been able to fall into the fault line between dream and reality, and wander in it without any pursuit? It is enough that “Memory” provides us with such an opportunity. It challenges our traditional cognition of movies, and we may also have more tolerance and expectations for the boundaries of movies.

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