By Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, this film pushes the idea that modernity is the truly strange phenomenon, not ancient religion or what we like to call pre-modern times. The pre-modern is represented by the two monks in their orange robes, and their direct, down-to-earth manner. The supposedly modern is represented by various doctors in their white suit coats, which look suspiciously like the robes of the monks. Only that the orange is much more pleasant. The monks are repeatedly puzzled by their interactions with the modernized Thai medical establishment, which, as it turns out, has taken ritual to new and unprecedentedly baroque and artificial heights.
The contemporary world is shown in ever stranger terms, from a variety of perspectives, whether the subject be power plants or artificial limbs, monks flying a toy spaceship, or a pipe sucking in steam, shaped suspiciously like an elephant’s trunk, albeit without the dignity. The ritual dance closing the film — held in park with a boom box and people in shorts — seems senseless and without meaning.
And yes, the contemporary world is more rationalistic in a variety of ways, but why not look at the true human fundamentals — life and death — as represented by the world of medicine, to see if that rationalism holds up? Alas.
Is there any director better at making you rethink the modern world and see its fundamental strangeness than Apichatpong Weerasethakul? You need to try Uncle Boonmee too.