Life before death

In Die Tomorrow, Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit contemplates the most profound phenomenon of them all

A scene from Die Tomorrow. Photo courtesy of Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit

With the Thai film Die Tomorrow, writer-director Nawapol Thamronrattanarit tries to capture that rarefied feeling of the eternal fleetingness of life. Presented as vignettes in which the viewer (though not necessarily the characters) knows that someone on the screen is going to die, the film aches to be a melancholic contemplation of perhaps death's greatest power -- its unpredictability.

In one episode, a group of young women hang out in a hotel room in preparation for their graduation ceremony. We're forewarned in advance by a text, however, that one of them will die in an unexpected circumstance, and she won't be able to attend what would have been one of the happiest occasions of her life.

In another, a young man and his sister chat on a rooftop. So casual is their attitude that we're struck, again, when we realise that one of them will soon die. The film, which runs to just over 70 minutes, is structured as a mix of fact, fiction, text and talking-head interviews. Most of those who die in the film are young -- that's how cruel death is -- and it incorporates everything from a plane crash to an onslaught of the murderous Islamic State. It also lets you hear the terrifying tick-tock of time, while a text on the screen keeps reminding you that at least two people die every second.

With a talent for narrative structure and unexpected modes of storytelling, Nawapol gives us his personal catalogue of death. In a way, he almost romanticises death -- not mortality, which many poets have found worth romanticising, but death as a destination of life's romance. Die Tomorrow wants to massage us into accepting the hammer blow of fate, and yet Nawapol is too cool, too conscious of his effort, to lull us into genuine sorrow, or into that deep well of uncertainty that makes us want to inspect the time we have left.

In Hirokazu Kore-eda's 1998 film After Life, people who've just died are given one week to choose only one memory in life they want to keep forever. That film gives meaning to death because death gives meaning to life. Nawapol's film, meanwhile, courageous in subject and inventive in form, is also a film that presents cinematic moments as a tool for memory -- though I'm not sure if it gives any meaning to life or to death, or that bittersweet limbo in between.

Die Tomorrow Starring Patcha Poonpiriya, Sunny Suwanmethanond, Chonnikan Netjui Directed by Nawapol Thamronrattanarit In Thai with English subtitles at SF Cinema

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