You’re woken up in the middle of the night to a sound. A loud bang. Deeply unsettling, you get up to locate the source but the search is fruitless. Unsure of what happened, you look out the window before sitting down and contemplating what it is that you just heard. Dreams do find their way of sometimes leaking into reality. Or is it the other way around? In this surreal dilemma is the root of Jessica Holland’s problem in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria. It’s a mysterious yet somehow deeply vivid portrait of the blurred line between awake and asleep, absorption and disassociation.
Tilda Swinton plays Holland in a performance that is indescribable seemingly on purpose. In fact, it would seem that Memoria as a whole is intentionally impossible to define or categorize. It’s an experience that distorts the line between fact and fiction, reality and dream, experience and empathy. It’s otherworldly in its presentation (quite literally when looking at the release of the film), and somehow even moreso in its execution. It revels in its silence and takes joy in its moments of serenity, before jolting you back to reality with sound. Blaring car alarms, a squeaky chair, the gravel beneath your car, the scaling and slicing of a fish.
Noticing these moments, everything has a story to tell. They’re simply waiting to be heard. But what happens when we find a something we can’t understand the story of? To what lengths does one go before questioning one’s sanity. Do we turn to pills, or religion, or something else entirely? Do we attempt to parse it out via technological recreation, or simply by speaking about it with a man who has never left his hometown in hopes of preserving his truest self? Weerasethakul answers all this and more as the lines between awake and dreaming become blurry. It’s a profoundly meditative film that doesn’t necessarily look to offer the answers that meditation might, but somehow fills you with the serenity meditation brings. That being said, there are moments of genuine uneasiness and almost dread, so it seems like viewers could pull anything from this film.
Weerasethakul reasoned his shooting in Colombia “to collect expressions and memories”, and his own experience with a loud noise at dawn “formed the basis of a character whose audio experience synchronizes with the country’s memory.” This harkens back to the concept that stories are everywhere simply waiting to be told. Many often complain about the repetitive nature of life. For example, you wake up, complete your morning routine, commute to work, and eventually make it back home. Rinse and repeat endlessly with little deviation. However, simply looking around and absorbing the minute details of life is crucial. It’s something everybody should do more in life. We have a direct link to the grandiose nature of life, and all it encompasses, yet too often it’s drowned out by headphones in our ears.
Holland is thrown into this experience a bit more against her will and downright shockingly, but the testament remains the same. And the way the film is being presented theatrically also harkens on this message. Weerasethakul is giving each viewer a truly unique experience one week at a time. It’s a way of jumpstarting this approach to life. It’s unfortunate that a film so gorgeously and methodically shot will only be able to be viewed under such specific terms. However, if the price to pay allows for a deeper appreciation of all the stories that this planet and its inhabitants has to tell, so be it. It’s a testament to the unique nature of going to the cinema, and one that I will always champion for. Weerasethakul has done something truly special with Memoria, and has assuredly left his own imprint for years and years to come.
NEON will release Memoria in theaters starting December 26th, 2021 in New York.