The Best Films of the Decade: #24. Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2011)

| December 18, 2019
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In just 13 Days the decade will come to a close and so for movie lovers like me it is an opportunity to look over the decade of movies that are left behind. Over the next few weeks I am going to count down the best films of the past 10 years from #40 to #1. My choices are personal choices swayed by nothing but the love I have for this medium. These are all great movies. These films all achieved something great. All reached for something special. They are the best of the decade . . .

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It is very likely that you haven’t heard of the oddly-titled 2010 Thai drama Uncle Boonme Who Can Recall His Past Lives and, truth be told, anyone who takes the plunge has to be ready for a film that stands well outside of their expectations.  Like Under the Skin, here is a movie generally cut free from the normal elements of linear narrative structure, character development and plot logic.  If it had any of those things than the story (and I use that term loosely) would be a jumbling mess.

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is not interested in culling your favor or giving you your money’s worth, his film is a strange a beautiful meditation on the afterlife revolving around a humble farmer and beekeeper called Uncle Boonme who is suffering a fatal kidney disease that will, in a few days, claim his life.  In the crucible of his illness, spirits from the other side reach out to meet him including the ghost of his dead wife, his son who has returned in the form of a baboon with glowing red eyes and an amorous catfish who develops a sexual relationship with an unhappy princess (don’t ask).

The point of all this is that Uncle Boonme, as he approaches the inevitable, is coming to terms with elements of his past lives – although this film is so dreamlike and often so cryptic that what you take away from the film is determined largely by what you bring with you.  If you are willing to interpret it at – and I promise, the movie is so engaging that you can’t help but try – you may see that what the director is saying is that if we are at peace with our past and with the spirits of our past, then they can ultimately take us wherever we want to go.  It suggests that the afterlife is a place where we can be cut free from the moral coil and spend an eternity living a spiritual existence in whatever form we choose.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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