Anatomy of Time (2021), a movie written and directed by Thai director Jakrawal Nilthamrong, focuses on two different phases of a woman’s life, Meam, which is portrayed by Prapamonton Eiamchan (young Meam) and Thaveeratana Leelanuja (older Meam). During her youth, she spends time with her father who deeply cares about clocks and earns a living thanks to them. He deeply studies the clocks; he fixes their problems and most important of all, he finds them valuable. Meam sees two men at the same time. She is not very fond of the army officer, portrayed by Wanlop Rungkumjad.

He is forceful and manipulative, however, he slowly manages to get Meam’s full attention. The other man is not as fancy as the officer, the officer has sunglasses and he has money that he can spend for Meam. She frequently takes a ride with him, then he shows the beauty of nature to her and tells stories. One day, the other man gets beaten by the officer’s men. The officer doesn’t even beat him himself. He gets hurt, Meam feels the weight of a huge guilt and we never see him again. Although Meam knows who has beaten him, she still keeps seeing the officer.

Anatomy of Time presents a constant dance between the past and the present. Through Meam’s memories, we fly to her past with her, as she gets lost in her memories within the stillness of her daily life. Old Meam takes care of her sick and much-detested husband. When we look at old people, we assume that they have always been like this: old, slow, sick, and close to death. However, the constant dance in the movie reminds us of the fact that all the old people were young once and time is here to bring us closer to senility, decay, and eventually death.

The director used his own mother’s house for “the present” shots and he was inspired by his family dynamics while creating the script. His father had a car accident and his mother had to be his nurse for the rest of her life. In the movie, the officer seems very kind towards Meam but we know that he is a violent man and in the present, everybody calls him a fascist and spits on his face. However, we never see an act of violence except for the fact that he makes his men beat the other guy. He must have done something wrong to get everyone’s backlash like this. We don’t see any political violence because it’s not what this movie is about. The movie is about personal yearnings, suffering, loss, hope, and happiness in everyday life. It’s about the question of “what if” and most importantly, time. No matter how you have spent your life, remembering the past and your youth brings the question of “What other life could I have?” and it is filled with nostalgia.

A Poem About Life, Loss, Pain and Joy

The past in the movie is shown as very sharp and detailed memories, but they are also scrappy and this gives the movie a dreamlike feature. It’s like she is remembering and revisiting all these things while she is keeping watch over her husband. We don’t know why she got married to him. Was she afraid after the incident that the other man got beaten, was it a love marriage, or was it a marriage of convenience? What we are sure of is that she stayed with her husband until the end, cut his nails and took care of him. It seems like she doesn’t enjoy it, in fact, she suffers from it. But even though she suffers, she keeps doing what she must do according to her logic or conscience. 

We had the opportunity to watch Anatomy of Time thanks to the 51st International Film Festival Rotterdam and it was a great experience. It’s a slow burn, but it’s a movie that presents the story of those who are stuck on the invisible yet very tangible bridge between the past and the future. In addition, the movie not only sheds light on Thailand‘s political past but also presents us some intriguing Buddhist teachings. Anatomy of Time is a fluent poem about being in the moment, flowing with life, and doing this with regrets like every human being does. When we look at it, it’s a story of a young, then old lady but it’s also the story of our grandmothers’, mothers’, and ours. Even though we are not from Thailand, it’s not hard to find the similarities between our lives and Meam’s. With the allegory of the cave and the colorful leaves coming out of the green landscape, the movie also presents a strong visuality and nurtures the audience with its serene view.

Although the flow of the movie is very good, one cannot help but wonder if the movie could have been more clear and even more fluent. As they watch the movie, many questions appear in the minds of the audience, but the movie often does not answer them all. While the attention of the audience is busy with these questions in their minds, it’s possible that they miss some of the features and beauties of the movie. But maybe this is the director’s way of telling us, “Stop asking questions or looking for answers. Just get lost in what you see.”

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