A number of hours earlier than my spouse and I went to see Memoria, she spoke to me of consideration. She’d been studying an essay on the subject from L.M. Sacasas’s wonderful The Convivial Society e-newsletter on the distorted types of consideration that machines give to us and thereby form us with. It had been a rushed day after a rushed weekend, and with a film screening later that night time, our dialog, too, was rushed and partial.
We made our method to the theater and located our seats, bracing for this unknown encounter. We knew fittingly little of the film. We had solely a glancing plot description—a Scottish lady (Tilda Swinton) residing in Colombia hears a mysterious metallic noise—and an expectation that the movie could be fairly gradual. However ultimately, our anticipation did little for us. Memoria dislodged us from our speeding, rushed world from the beginning.
The movie opened with a ten minute stretch of silence as stills from the movie’s shoot had been overlaid with notes and sketches by the director, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Coming full pace out of the day’s work, a concatenated dinner, and a hunt for ever-elusive parking in Capitol Hill, the compelled silence hit us like a provocation. Even with my pleasure to see this film, regardless that I declare to get pleasure from silence, my first response was, You’re kidding me. I don’t need this; this sounds insupportable. Simply sit right here?
Simply sit there.
Ten minutes of structured silence is a far longer time than ten minutes of plot and motion and dialogue. It actually was a provocation. It was unsettling. Nevertheless it was additionally a wanted lesson in consideration.
For some stretches I closed my eyes, and regularly I felt my thoughts turn into calm. As my senses slowly attuned, I extra absolutely encountered the room. I heard the throb of the air con and little else. When the picture switched, the change in brightness and hue of sunshine moved me to open my eyes and see one thing new. Small coughs often punctuated the quiet, accompanied by the unambiguous embarrassment of those that’d tried, and failed, to mute them.
It was a participatory silence, an odd group follow, close to mystic.
And so, slowly, begrudgingly, my frustration waned, and by the tip of the ten minutes, I felt current (although nonetheless uncertain what I used to be current for). In hindsight, I wanted to be disrupted from my day to be prepared for this expertise.
Weerasethakul’s Memoria is a shapeless movie: very like the irrupting sound itself, it’s a bit “extra spherical” than we anticipate. And if my descriptions are flailing, that’s partly as a result of it’s elusive in additional methods than one: Memoria isn’t accessible to observe at house, and it’s hardly accessible to observe in a theater. As a substitute of a large (and even restricted) launch, Weerasethakul’s movie is enjoying in a single metropolis for one week at a time, enjoying a minimal run earlier than shifting to the subsequent metropolis. It opened in New York towards the tip of 2021; I heard mere rumblings of it till it popped up in Seattle in early April. Two days after sitting in that hushed theater, it was gone.
Which means that even the very expertise of seeing the movie grew to become like recalling a dream. I’ve fragments, a unfastened grasp of the sense of it greater than the precise particulars of scenes. I can’t return and ensure my concepts, nor can I inform anybody to go watch it. All I’ve is a slippery reminiscence of a single weeknight that makes little sense compared to another. It’s a reminiscence that doesn’t match, however I do know it occurred. No less than, I’m fairly positive.
Weerasethakul has crafted a film that’s preternaturally powerful to explain, and whereas its plot is paper skinny, its themes are cosmically grand: the value that decay wrings out of magnificence; the problem of connection to others in our technologically mediated world; the inevitability of loss and loss of life; the inexpressible gulfs of existence; the imprecise, not even hoped-for chance of rebirth. Development, excavation; destruction, remembrance. Memoria obliquely considers all of this stuff.
However at its basis, Memoria is about feeling alien on this world the place connection is ephemeral and slipping away from us—life, too. It’s a couple of world the place the singular reward (or burden) of our existence must be achingly communicated throughout obstacles of language and obstacles of expertise itself. How will we categorical our fears, our ideas, our very beings to at least one one other, to another? What if our anxieties aren’t understood, aren’t felt by the opposite? (In the event that they aren’t felt, can they be actually understood?)
In his essay titled “The Picture of Proust,” Walter Benjamin described the creator as “homesick for the world distorted within the state of resemblance, a world by which the true surrealist face of existence breaks by way of.” It’s a remarkably apt description of Memoria, too. Between its existential weight and its uprooted sense of expertise, the phrase that kinds most solidly in my reflection is uncanny. A lot of the film is quiet and mundane, however there’s an attendant dread lurking, figuring out that one thing inexplicable could pierce and shatter the calm at any second.
By way of its cautious, prolonged frames, the movie slowly attracts the viewers into the follow of consideration. The huge, open plains of silence convey an odd, double-edged focus: an consciousness of each sound within the theater, the creaking of previous seats, the fixed thrumming of the air con excessive above, the muffled coughs of different watchers frightened of trespassing on this expertise; and conversely, a raptness on the display, on each delicate motion of the body, on Swinton’s gradual surprised expressions.
However even within the treasured act of consideration, there’s a way of uncanniness. For Memoria is attuned to the truth that our consideration is just not an unqualified good. Memoria’s subterranean dread comes from confronting the likelihood that our consideration could alight on issues sudden, undesirable, and unwelcome. Typically we don’t need to concentrate on actuality. Typically the giving of consideration turns into a disturbing act.
Fittingly, this sense is carried most predominantly within the sound design. Within the first couple of minutes, the one sounds heard are the confounding metallic crash that Swinton’s Jessica hears and a cacophony of automotive alarms blaring within the silent gray daybreak of Bogotá. As Memoria stretches on, clangs of development and the whirring of machines kind a spare soundscape, such that even a quick inburst of music feels transcendent.
At totally different occasions all through the film, my thoughts wandered again—and Memoria permits loads of time for wandering—to the query of know-how and a spotlight. I felt uneasy; I felt anxiousness for a way the tenor of our human world has turn into one in every of engines, alarms, keyboards, and digital chimes. What will we lose of our humanity when the material of our lives is more and more of a technological nature? Substitute birdsong and rustling breeze with hydraulic hums and engines revving. Drown out the silent areas with incessant beeps and buzzing alerts. Insert our ear buds in order that we are able to fend off noise with totally different noise. All of it coalesces to uninteresting the senses to our extra lasting, primeval actuality. The facility of Memoria is its very uncanniness—it throws us again into our world.
It’s no shock that silence unsettles us or that the uninterrupted consideration begins to really feel disturbing. We have now made this world into one thing else by texturing it with an omnipresent digital sheen, and now that world is reshaping us. Memoria, greater than almost another film I’ve seen, made me really feel alien on this world, as if I used to be being confronted with that surrealist face of existence.
Nevertheless it’s not simply know-how—that alien feeling creeps decrease into the muse of existence itself. Though I share the feel of this world with everybody round me, speaking my expertise by no means ceases to be a horrible endeavor. I battle to search out the correct phrases. I thank God for the gradual, distilling act of writing, however even then. And if I do handle to specific myself, there’s no assure that the particular person I’m speaking to will perceive what I imply. In the event that they then perceive my phrases, there’s no assurance that they may relate to me in a means that connects our experiences.
How can I actually share my experiences with others—not solely the occasions I encounter, but in addition my inside response to them? (Reader, I can solely stutteringly describe this film to you.) As we transfer additional into these emotions and experiences we guard most carefully, the query turns into a maw of an abyss. How do I assist my spouse perceive my reluctance towards battle when it flows from inarticulate childhood fears and household dynamics? And as with fears, so with hopes: I’m an engineer who envisions life as a movie critic—a dream to which a typical response is well mannered, if seen, confusion.
After we pay it sufficient consideration, this world makes us really feel uncanny. Our existence feels extra remoted than we prefer to acknowledge. Our lives are suffused with specificity, however that may additionally make us really feel disconnected, restricted. Alien.
The unusual, inexplicable dream that’s Memoria manifests that sensation, planting Jessica’s mushy paranoia inside its viewers. When shaken from our technological daze, we’re thrown again into the world of our existence. Whereas Memoria isn’t prescriptive about how we transfer ahead, it does current some encounters value contemplating.
To me, the essential second is delivered by a Colombian physician. Jessica as soon as extra tries to explain the expertise of this haunting sound, and he or she reveals that it has pushed her to insomnia. She asks for a Xanax prescription to assist her sleep, however the physician denies her request, claiming that taking medicine could seem to be an answer, however that they “will make [her] lose empathy.”
The physician is extra proper than she is aware of (at the same time as she’s very incorrect about different issues). Confronted with the inexpressible dread of this sound, Jessica needs to numb herself. Confronted with our incommunicable existence, we do a lot the identical. Typically this takes the type of remedy, however simply as typically it comes by way of the distractions of the web. Or we shut our world inside the limits of our profession, focusing our consideration on the regular accumulation of success, ignoring the pains round and inside us. However as we develop numb, we lose our empathy towards others.
It’s terrifying, however confronting our dread is a crucial step to residing absolutely. After we discover ourselves dealing with the abyss of existence, it’s straightforward to show away and withdraw, however we are able to additionally go searching and see everybody else standing on that edge alongside us. As we acknowledge the sheer issue of being understood, we are able to reply with a deeper compassion for others, a stronger need to hunt to know.
However even right here, empathy isn’t the ultimate step. Realizing we’re on the sting of an abyss doesn’t take away the abyss. The query of methods to bridge these gaps stays unsure. And as soon as extra, Memoria refuses to consolation us. We’re left with the query, and we’re left to our particular person selves to attempt to discover a solution.
Right here, on the fringe of existence and understanding, there may be new surprise within the incarnation of Christ. Past the shock of the infinite manifest within the bodily, there’s one other shock: the exaltation of the particular. As James Okay.A. Smith writes in The Nicene Possibility, it’s by way of the incarnation that “otherness is revealed.” Situated within the singular particular person of Christ, the incarnation manifests a selected reward of “actual presence” that unfolds the likelihood that we will be current with all others.
In that incarnation there’s a radical uplifting of the singular expertise. Jesus is an expression—a revelation—of the divine inside the restricted body of the human. None may very well be so different to us as God; but now, none may very well be so close to.
In our existence, we discover ourselves frighteningly disconnected, uprooted from these round us. However the incarnation is an occasion which grounds us once more, rooting our particularity in that which is past us—not solely in God, however in our very world and the folks we share it with. As Smith quotes from Emmanuel Lévinas’ In any other case than Being: “‘Thanks be to God,’ I’m an different for the others.”
Someway there may be limitless grace captured inside the finite. There’s a presence that brings mercy into the areas that understanding can’t cross. And in that presence, we’re known as to be an different for others: to hunt understanding, to take care of others of their needs and fears and experiences, to behave with compassion and style and mercy, to provide form to the world past our machines, and to succeed in throughout the uncanny and grasp the humanity of that different, to provide them our fullest consideration, our selves.
Memoria uprooted me from my distraction by throwing me again into the uncanny world. The incarnation roots me in that world as soon as extra.