“POP EYE”— A Man and his Elephant

“Pop Aye”

A Man and an Elephant

Amos Lassen

Middle-aged architect Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) is experiencing a mid-life crisis. He is being sidelined at his architecture firm by younger architects and his signature project, a large shopping centre, is scheduled for demolition. His marriage with wife Bo (Penpak Sirikul) isn’t going well either. One day he stumbles across Pop Aye, an elephant from his childhood, and decides to buy him. Together they embark on a road trip through rural Thailand.   

Writer/director Kirsten Tan’s film is about both discovery and recovery. She uses the dialectic of past memory versus present experience to present her story. Thana’s present is fraught with uncertainty yet through finding with his long-lost elephant, he is afforded a rare trip down memory lane.  In the process of recovery, he is blessed by the beauty of his gigantic, graceful friend, and comes across a few interesting if random characters.  Thana was raised in poverty in the town of Loei in Northern Thailand but made his way to Bangkok and became a successful architect. Decades later, he deals with feelings of inadequacy and although despondent, he is surprised to find an elephant walking the streets of Bangkok. Together, they set off on a walking journey across Thailand back to Loei, where Thana intends to return Pop Aye to the farm of Thana’s uncle.

The film is by not a fantasy. Thana has grown tired and disillusioned with city life decides to return to Loei so he and Pop Aye begin a journey from the bustling city of Bangkok into rural Thailand where they will meet eccentric characters, including a transgender woman named Jenny who Thana treats with some compassion and, Dee, a gregarious homeless man living in an abandoned gas station who knows that his days are numbered. These encounters help Thana grow into a man at peace with the disappointments of his life. The elephant is an avatar that slowly and resolutely marches towards an end that is pre-ordained but not necessarily without surprise.

Sad-eyed former musician Thaneth Warakulnukroh is reserved but deeply compelling as the architect in crisis. Granted. Many people will not be interested in a film about a man and an elephant but this is a delightful look at the road that so many of us have to take in our lives.

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