Editor’s Note: The following review was originally published in print form, as part of FilmHounds’ August/September 2021 Issue.
My mother would always banter about her childhood. Her upbringing in Medellín —whilst living on the brink of poverty— was confounded by a series of eclectic sounds. Barking dogs, skidding cars, and gunshots from Escobar’s drug-trafficking cartel would haunt her memory. Her sleeps were restless; her juvenility consistently penetrated by the looming disappearance of locals and familiar faces. It was psychological warfare, a battle between innocent civilians and the doomed fate of perpetrated violence. A sound is no longer a sound when it is provided context. A sound can be a weapon; a symbol of death which connects the proletariat through the cycles of violence.
There’s a brief moment in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria where a passerby on the streets is startled by the sound of an ignited exhaust pipe. The sound, similar to that of a blunt gunshot, causes the man to instantaneously drop to the sidewalk ground; immediately prepared for the consequence of death. The man is so attuned to his surroundings, that this brief moment of instantaneous action perfectly describes the normalcy towards cruelty in which the people of Colombia face in their daily routine. The loud bang in which Tilda Swinton’s Jessica faces at nauseum is merely an afterthought; an obtuse symphonic reminder about her individual class privilege in contrast with the everyday populace and the nation’s pre-lived trauma. She’s a foreigner, only now beginning to understand the adopted cruelty of this society — a colonised world infiltrated by the power of a bellowed thump. A bellowed thump is no longer a thump when it is provided by a human host. A thump can be a gesture; an expression of natural chaos viewed through the lens of entitlement.
The ability to dream is a form of privilege and social status. The locals and Indigenous communities are entrapped by the lack and will to dream; as decades worth of pain and suffering continuously numb and silence their culture. Memoria is the precise anthesis of Weerasethakul’s previous films, where serenity and tranquility are proven as the common invader. Artificial memories of capitalist-infused desire are what drive the fortunate, whereas other minority populations are continuously belittled by their world of deafening sound. A natural disaster is no longer a disaster when it is provided with a different connotation. A rupture can be a symbol; an intergalactic metaphor for the connective intergenerational trauma of the past, present, and future.
Attention to detail and minuscule mannerisms are what provide clarity in Weerasethakul’s universe. A dinner with friends, a conversation with a fish scaler, and a chance encounter with death are but a few moments of individualistic connection that provide a cast of humanity. The remainder of Weerasethakul’s odyssey is a deadpan fantasy; one which accurately highlights the cadaverous shell of Colombian society. Memoria is not a spiritual journey, but rather an internal apocalypse. A depiction of post-colonialist trauma formed in a whirlwind of never-ending mortality. A film is no longer a film when it is provided a core cultural reference. A film can be a reflection; a mirror to the memories of my mother and the impact those memories hold.