An Experience of Serene Bewilderment


World cinema’s premier maker of mysterious objects, Apichatpong Weerasethakul is on a one-man mission to change the way we watch movies. Rich and strange, postmodern and prehistoric, his films foster an experience of serene bewilderment and—for the willing viewer—euphoric surrender. Instructively titled, Tropical Malady is split down the middle between lovesick daydream and malarial delirium. An idyllic first half, which recounts in fleeting fragments the intensifying attraction between handsome soldier Keng and bashful farm boy Tong, gives way to a nocturnal folktale that likewise traces an anatomy of desire, but this time with the soldier amid an unearthly menagerie of tiger spirits, phantom cattle, and an aphorism-dispensing baboon. How do the two halves connect? Which one is real—or realer? Are these pertinent questions? The film’s mysteries are so cosmic that any attempt to ascribe allegory can seem puny. The soldier, face-to-face with the pursuer that is also the object of desire, heeds the advice of the talking baboon: “Let him devour you and enter his world.” And as the lovers merge—in an act of consumption and communion and consummation—so too, finally, do the film’s divided halves.