Stories, legends, myths, and histories, all have their origin. They are passed down through generations of family, through groups of friends, from overheard conversations, or, nowadays, reading something online. These stories are added upon and changed; certain people focus on specific parts, and others find those aspects irrelevant. Each story touches someone and affects them in a different way. They feel the need to add their own experience to it, or to decipher some other plot point that may not have been thought of, and in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s debut film, Mysterious Objects at Noon, he tries to decipher how this evolution occurs. Alongside this goal, he also documents the lives of many Thai citizens, filming them playing sports, cooking, and simply going about their daily lives.
The beauty of Mysterious Object at Noon lies at the discrepancy between documentary and fiction. This movie presents both interviews and real-life stories as well as dramatized events, but even these dramas are broken down into simple shots of the actors speaking with one another. The film is based on something known as “The Exquisite Corpse Game”, a drawing game where each person adds their own piece of the drawing to what was previously added, usually not knowing what had come before (for example, adding an arm to a body without seeing the body). Weerasethakul begins by interviewing a woman selling tuna and fish sauce out of the back of a car, and then asks her to tell him a story of her own.
She begins to tell a story she had once heard of a crippled boy being homeschooled by a teacher. One day the teacher left the room for a minute, and when the boy went to check on her, he found her dead. As he attempted to move her, a mysterious object rolled out from her clothing. This is the story that every moment in the film from then on out would build on. The myth is built through text, as if in a silent movie, possibly written by the director or possibly from some future source. It is built by asking a group of young men riding elephants, by two deaf girls who beautifully narrate through sign language, by a group of young school boys who tell the story while arguing, fighting, and laughing with each other, and by an older woman who gets drunk and begins adding more supernatural themes to the story.
Not only are they various people and groups adding their own flair to the story, but this flair is being added in unique ways. At times, Weerasethakul has actors play out the roles of the story in a narrative film fashion. Other times he casts amateur actors to put on a play for a village audience that shows the next moments of the story. And sometimes the story is just told orally, by groups of children or adults. The roles of these actors are then broken down into documentary as well. The actors for the narrative portion are shown between scenes, reading comics or telling jokes. The actors in the theater piece are shown while they are told the initial story that they must build on. And the director never seems to intervene with any piece of these people’s stories, and instead simply asks questions along the lines of, “tell me anything” or “add your piece to this”.
What the film seems to be getting at is what it means to create a story or a myth. The various iterations and points of view it must go through are represented by the vast number of authors. The own actors’ take on the represented characters are shown by their true, real-life personalities in those “in-between” scenes. The cameras and mics are shown to help display the influence that past film (and any sort of storytelling) has had on this story, or the people within the story. The movie even shows how every person can have their own unique take on the themes and meaning of the story, as some completely gloss over the fact that the child is crippled, while some need answers as to why.
Finally, the documentary aspects of the movie are powerful stories in themselves. The initial storyteller’s real tale about her father selling her off is horrifying and moving. The drunk grandmother’s personality and her interactions with her husband are laugh out loud hysterical. The small village’s theater play, the cooking scenes, the children at school, are all incredible representations of a life that many film watchers are not used to seeing; the scenes give voices to perspectives not often thought of by western audience, and they find ways to connect both actor and watcher at the core theme of the film: the merging of life and fiction.
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