26 December 2008

Happy Birthday แฮปปี้เบิร์ดเดย์

Spoilers galore!

I watched Happy Birthday tonight at Paragon Cineplex simply due to some positive reviews on-line. The film was good even though I think it's a little bit too cliche and sentimental. Perhaps I've been watching too many weird films that I just can't tolerate simple films anymore.

The relationship between Then and Pao starts from their common interest -- travelling around Thailand. Then loves photography and Pao loves drawing -- what an idyllic starting point for love among the Thai middle-class. Middle-class viewers will probably enjoy the first half of the film as the couple drive around scenic routes in the North of Thailand (the area around Mae Hong Son I think). However, while their middle-class romance is blossoming, a car crash results in Pao suffering severe brain injuries, which reduces her to a condition of living like a vegetable. That means theoretically she's dead but technologically she's surviving through the aid of oxygen.

Because of his middle-class promise made to her that they'll take care of each other until they die, Then takes care of Pao, cleans her, changes her sanitary pads, and takes her out shopping. His care for her borders on the level of insanity. Despite the protests from her parents to 'let Pao go', Then holds on to what remains of his girlfriend dearly. He's broke paying loads to keep her 'alive' and loses his job due to lack of concentration. In other words, the director wants to make clear that he suffers a lot because of her as he wishes to cherish their promise. The director also wants to show how heroic he is in trying to maintain his loyalty especially in the contemporary social context of fast love and easy sex.

However, I can't help but thinking that Then is making a serious mistake, trying to hold onto Pao's body. Throughout the film, we see him change lotuses in front of a Buddha replica. But one wonders whether he really understands Buddhism, especially the concept of 'letting go'. Lord Buddha preaches against desire, especially that for material objects. In a sense, Then's wish to keep Pao's body is like a child guarding a toy that's broken. It's obvious that Pao already exists in Then's vivid imagination. I think it's perhaps much better if the film shows his true understanding of Buddhism, that Pao's existence is not just physical but mental. Pao's body is just an external shell, waiting to decompose. Pao's existence in Then's imagination should be much more revered.

Besides, the film should've further raised the mooted topic of euthanasia, especially from the point of the person who suffers. We only see the opinions of her boyfriend and her parents, but of course we don't learn much about Pao's attitude towards life and death in general. The treatment of her character in the first half of the film should've focused also on her opinion so that this would shed light on another perspective on the matter. She functions as a silent body or when we hear her speak it's mostly from her boyfriend's imagination.

If we treat this film as a piece of middle-class propaganda, think about the effect it will cast upon middle-class viewers, how the film will shape their middle-class conception of 'true love' and its connection with the physical. Perhaps it's something to do with our age of consumerism and materialism that we middle-class people need an actual object to confirm our idea of love. Pao's body is unfortunately and paradoxically used selfishly by Then to confirm his everlasting love to her. Wouldn't it be better if he just accepted her death and continued with his life without her body but with his memory of their time together? Pao would surely love to see him happy rather than slaving over her unconscious body and getting crazy in the process.

I just don't find Then's love for Pao heroic; it's just possessive, middle-class and rude.

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