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‘Memoria:’ Your Memory, My Memory, or Our Memory?
by Ziming "Paul" Liu

“Let’s embrace the darkness and dream, one at a time.”

—Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Dreams are a path leading to collective unconsciousness, and therein lie the memories and fantasies of every single person. Whenever in sleep, a wordless entanglement will rise up, potentially enabling the emergence of anything.

Dune, which was released in theaters a few short months ago, begins with the statement: “Dreams are messages from the deep.” Juxtaposed against a screen of complete darkness, it is a message seemingly concurring with Memoria, the latest feature from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Nevertheless, how Dune treats and presents dreams is still that of the conventional Hollywood manner: a simple and straightforward narrative tool for exploring predictions and psychological implications regarding plot points and character motivations. But for Apichatpong, who is continuing on the road of broadening the possibilities of film media, there exists another possibility for the dream format: a way to transfer messages to the audience through the impression of sounds and images, despite how static or still their appearance may be. 

The film opens with the protagonist, played by Tilda Swinton, waking up from a dream in the middle of a night. The whole opening shot is so hush, you can perhaps wonder if there is something wrong with the sound — until a loud percussion sound suddenly appears and then fades. This kind of sound coming from nowhere shows itself from time to time, as some objects in certain urban spaces could summon flux and reflux of sounds (a shot that can echo with Leos Carax’s Holy Motors). As a result, for such mysterious phenomena, the protagonist, along with the audience, must want to know how it is happening and where it is coming from. However, just like dreams themselves, these sorts of mysteries are themselves without a source — or, the sources have long been around us, but our subjective senses have not felt them, or have somehow chosen to neglect them.

Then, what we should do, and what we need to do, is to just fall into the unconscious state and try to reach the dream within and only feel it. For the films of Apichatpong, you can always choose to close your eyes and listen, or you can also choose to just fall asleep, as that is a form of watching as well. In such a state of subtly entangled viewing, just like the characters in Memoria, you too could have a chance at touching your dream, even though it may collapse, finally leaving with a spaceship.

To put it plainly, Apichatpong’s methodology of filmmaking is basically a covert form of hypnosis, which literally may put people to sleep at some times. Under ordinary circumstances, people would say that falling asleep during a movie is a waste of time, and that being bewildered and confused by the film is like being played by the filmmakers, which can be attributed to a lack of clarity on their part, or even an inability to capture the audience’s attention. But for Apichatpong, the intense drowsiness that you receive is actually a portal opening up further possibilities of our senses, for when, on the brink of falling asleep, your senses can communicate the precious existence of “feelings” in a purer, more direct manner. At the same time, the consciousness, which puts a value on everything, would now be delegated to the unconscious, which operates in the realm of feeling. And this is a way of restoring the experience of dreams in the cinematic fashion.

Just imagine, when there is nothing happening on the silver screen — or, when what is happening has already become a specimen frozen in time — now you can choose to close your eyes, or even doze off for a little while, delegating your senses to the auditory aspect. What you see now is a visual phantom comprised of both the film’s images and your brain’s fantasization. In other words, this new sense of “watching” could be the result of the love-making between the film and your brain. What you are seeing is not only the pictures projected onto the screen, but also a set of visuals that your brain has established upon imagination. These two forms of seeing could eventually merge into a singular hybrid vision in works such as Apichatpong’s films. Maybe sometimes you can only perceive one of them, but still there now exists multiple diverse paths for the act of film viewing.

What Apichatpong is doing is basically emancipating audiences’ senses from the action of simply staring at the screen. When watching his films in theaters, you can even have the leisure to actively observe other audiences’ postures — asleep, breathing, falling asleep, and so on. Therefore, we probably should notice that film, as a reflection being projected onto a “mirror,” cannot genuinely connect each one of us in real life. However, in the common viewing environment in the theaters, you can actually feel the presence of other audiences. For this, even the irritating heavy breathing sounds now could be tolerable, because that is proof of another person being there. What is more, we should be aware that, at this time, you are not the only person staring at the screen and interpreting the void within as reality. Even the viewer who has fallen asleep during the film has also entered its world in a certain way.

Therefore, with filmmakers like Apichatpong, Tsai Ming-Liang, Chantal Akerman, Pedro Costa, and many others, you are not forced to watch what is occurring on screen, because their films are anti-information and anti-spectacle, and the focus is on the sensory experience the images evoke. Especially when we take the context to Southeast Asia, the methodologies of Apichatpong and Tsai could be seen as so closely similar, although their creative content and underlying messages diverge at different aspects. In their films, you can always touch something that remains untouchable in real life, despite its existence in some corner of reality. As a result, all of the minute and negligible things that constitute our daily lives — such as eating, walking, sleeping, masturbating, urinating, defecating — become the actions most worthy of our attention. Since it is just impossible to completely connect with another human being, we then at least have these things that every one of us do every day that can lead us into a realm of collective (un)consciousness.

In the statically flowing and transcendental realm built by Apitchapong, it is truly precious that we can have a chance to revisit ourselves, our psyches, and our senses. Here, I can just simply look at you, or I can fall asleep as if my senses have been lost. The former takes my sight upon your body, as if we have created a connection based on this action; the latter, however, drags us together into the abyss of unconsciousness, good or bad, where we hope, just maybe one day, there too could be a spaceship that takes us away.

(Quote in the above header was pulled from The Guardian.)