Globalization is weird. People believe cultures are being at once both destroyed and nourished. Some think it’s an illusion. Others think it’s the apocalypse.
But I’m talking about my personal experience with globalization. I live in a world where I can drive five minutes to Walmart, buy a shitty superhero movie, buy shitty nachos to eat while I watch it, then write a blog post about how much I hated it that anyone in the world with an internet connection can read. Alternatively, I can go to Netflix, see that a majority of Netflix users hated Cemetery of Splendour and watch it because most Netflix users can be pretty dumb. These two possibilities exist in the same world. It’s amazing.
But it’s also possible, as Cemetery posits, that there are more worlds than we know of. If this is true, Walmart exists in the faceless, plastic, frenetic realm and Cemetery lives in a different place of quiet beauty and deliberate calmness. You need to watch this movie if only to run away for a couple of hours. Even if you don’t buy into its spiritual philosophy, you can appreciate the relationships its characters possess in a world genuinely apart from all the cheap plastic toys and maltreated workers.
The movie depicts the story of a temporary clinic in a small Thai town for soldiers inflicted with a strange sleeping sickness. They are accompanied by a few nurses and an elderly volunteer named Jen, who begins to befriend the afflicted soldier Itt. Also at the clinic is a young psychic named Keng, who helps the sleeping soldiers communicate with their families.
Things from their get less straightforward. The clinic employs a weird form of therapy involving colored lights to help heal the patients. Jen begins to look at Itt’s personal journal and finds strange drawings that seem to be design plans for a building. (SPOILER) Further along in the film, Jen gives alms to a beautiful pair of river princesses from Laos. Later, two women claiming to be those princesses, who are hundreds of years old and dead, thank Jen for her givings and reveal to her that the soldiers’ clinic is built on top of a magnificent palace, the site of a battle between two kingdoms. The kings leading this battle are using the energy from the sleeping soldiers to wage this war in their spirit world. One of the last scenes of the movie centers on Itt, who is possessing Keng’s body, leading Jen through the palace, which he can see when his bouts of sleepiness envelop him.
The way Apichatpong Weerasethakul, the director, handles these strange sequences is through sober realism. There’s no special effects or CGI. Weerasethakul is able to highlight the beauty of our real world, the world inhabited by Jen, by bringing in a spectral world that intersects with ours seamlessly. These spirits, if you believe they’re spirits, look at talk and dress like us. They eat our food, buy our clothes and sit with us. There’s no trumpet heralding their presence or beam of light signalling their divinity. And Cemetery makes them seem more beautiful because of it.
It’s telling how talented and unique a director like Weerasethakul is that he could turn a script rife with potential as a horror movie into a stunning realist film about human relationships and spirituality. It’s the most beautiful film I’ve seen in a while. If you’re sick of Walmart and McDonald’s and Apple, watch Cemetery of Splendour. If you’re fed up with superheros and star wars and hunger games, watch Cemetery of Splendour. If you need to close your eyes for a little bit, watch Cemetery of Splendour. It’ll teach you you don’t have to run away from this world to escape it.