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Tabula Rasa 

Memoria Seeks to Wake Us Up

How much of who we are is based on the memories and moments that have imprinted on us since birth? I sometimes wonder if I woke up tomorrow completely tabula rasa, would I find my way back to loving the same movies, the same music, the same people, or would I end up being some antithetical version of the man I am now?

I believe that after every song, every movie and every conversation, we are invariably changed in either the most subtle or profound of ways. We are never the same at the end of the day. So, if all those days are gone in one fell swoop, then who are we? Are we forever different, or would we eventually grow back into the person we were?

Who is really inside the enclosure: we or the animal? - COURTESY OF NEON
  • Courtesy of Neon
  • Who is really inside the enclosure: we or the animal?

Thai filmmaker Arpitchatpong Weerasethakul's new film "Memoria" examines a lonely Scottish expat named Jessica (played by the ethereal Tilda Swinton), living and working in Colombia, who one morning is awoken by a single loud boom. There's nothing about the sound that's natural, instead it's something alien and unknowable, something that instantly fills Jessica with an existential dread that lingers deeply.

As an audience member, the boom is abrupt and shocking. It made me jump out of my seat and spill my beverage. So now we are like Jessica, distrustful of the silence and constantly on edge, awaiting the next intrusion to the dreamlike and elegiac life being observed. Weerasethakul has done something here that only a handful of films have ever even attempted in the past: He has created an actual, physical bridge between the audience and the protagonist.

We flinch when she does. We worry when her memories start becoming suspect and her reality starts feeling tenuous at best. She is our center in a world losing balance and our unreliable narrator telling a story only half remembered, like the fast-fading highlights of a dream. "Memoria" becomes our story just as much as Jessica's because we're discovering and recovering our equilibrium with her in real time.

Weerasethakul and distributor Neon are doing something interesting with the release of "Memoria." They don't ever want it released digitally, streaming or on physical media. Instead, they're treating the film like a traveling roadshow: playing it at indie and arthouse theaters across the country in one-week engagements; touring the film like a rock band. If you don't catch it here this week, you'll find it elsewhere next week and somewhere new the week after.

This distribution method isn't for pretentious reasons related to preserving the "theatrical experience." Instead, it's for two simple reasons: 1) the sound design creates the tone, feel and mood of the entire film and without immersive sound, you aren't fully with Jessica. 2) Memoria. Memory. Your memory. That's how this movie needs to exist— the way we remember it, a decade from now, as a ghost with the details swirling nebulously in our minds. If it was on Netflix, we wouldn't need memory, we would only need wifi.

Weerasethakul's earlier film, "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives," is in my top 10 films of all time, so I was predisposed to be on the very specific wavelength of "Memoria." The sound design combined with the singular imagery of this movie creates an almost hypnotic and transformative experience that plays more like a hallucination than a motion picture. The fact that cinema still has the ability to weave porous doors between sense, memory and art is astounding and so is this magnificent waking dream.

Dir. Arpitchatpong Weerasethakul
Grade: A
April 8-14

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