Memory, the latest feature from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is a film largely focused on sound. The creak of a chair in a quiet hospital room, the single click of the space bar on a keyboard, the muffled patter of rain outside.
The most important sound, however, is the one that has begun to haunt Jessica Holland (Swinton) day and night: a single loud, startling boom that seems to come from nowhere in particular. This alarming auditory hallucination sends Jessica on a sort of investigation through her current residence in Colombia, in search of what that sound could be – or what it could potentially mean.
However, the essence of Jessica’s journey is not beholden to traditional expectations. Weerasethakul has crafted a deeply spiritual slice of slow cinema that moves at a suitably measured pace and isn’t afraid to allow its audience to sit in contemplative silence. A lot of Memory is defined by long static shots of figures lounging in quiet spaces or having soft conversations; he achieves such a hypnotic lull that sometimes it becomes a shock just to see the camera finally cut to something else. A scene in the second half observes a character falling asleep outside, accompanied only by the trickling of a nearby stream and the chirping of birds, which lasts no less than five minutes.
It’s something that’s both hugely gripping to experience once you surrender to the steady beat of the beat, and existentially frightening when the silence is shattered by that thunderous roar. While it’s mostly emotional character drama, there are elements here that suggest something more sinister or otherworldly is at play, giving it hints of brooding psychological horror. Swinton’s performance is subtly revealing in his fear of noise that eventually gives way to an overwhelming emotional reconciliation.
As you’d expect, the answers offered here aren’t particularly straightforward. It’s something less concerned with concrete solutions and more obsessed with some towering ideas that overwhelm you. What the film suggests is ultimately more powerful than any clear explanation it could possibly offer; its thematic ambitions are too big for that. Collective human consciousness, ancient civilizations, metaphysical connections between mind and body – these are the ethereal threads that Memory leaves you hooked. Even for the most adventurous viewers, it can prove nerve-wracking. But embracing its strange uniqueness makes for an empowering, and perhaps even transformative, experience.