Tainted with a mid-life crisis and a dying marriage, Thana’s life seemed to be at its lowest. However, his rash purchase of an elephant he named Pop Aye gave him in return, a larger than life adventure.
Throwing away his occupational and marital responsibilities, Thana in his child-like state decided to bring Pop Aye back to his home village. I was frustrated that he decided to abandon that lavish house he has for a dirty, tiring and difficult journey. But, gradually, as he forms interesting transient relationship with the people he met along the way, I began to see this path he chose as something spiritual, almost like a pilgrimage of sort.
Thana was so carefree in his interactions with the individuals he met along the way. He went grocery shopping with a homeless man who is covered in filth. He ate and shared food with him despite his disturbing black teeth. He lent the man his phone to call his wife, trusting him wholeheartedly. Later on, Thana meets an aging transgendered woman prostitute. He sang a soulful duet with her at the bar.
His unguarded and inviting interaction with strangers reflected his liberating soul. It was almost as if he forgot who he is, what he is pursuing in life and how much he possessed. Some may view that the way he acted was the forced by prolonged suppression of emotions. But, I felt that he saw beyond those emotions he was feeling and was in a way enlightened, enlightened to see that life is more than these emotions. Beyond those city walls, Thana was freer in the mind.
At the same time, it was, to me, spiritually and soulfully healing for him as I see he sought meaningful companionship and solace in these individuals he met. However short these relationships were and however marginalised these individuals were, they were able to provide him comfort to his soul.
While the relationships he formed along the way were short lived, Pop Aye never left his sight. Pop Aye was the constant in this journey because he represented Thana’s persisting yearning to return to his childhood when he was happier. Times spent between the two have always been intimate and raw happiness was displayed.
Under the sweltering afternoon heat, Thana was soaking himself in a nearby river with Pop Aye. Like a child again, he played with him, splashing water around. After they were done in the river, Pop Aye offered Thana up his back by lifting his knee for him to climb up. Thana struggled but Pop Aye waited patiently. These moments truly showed the relationship between the two.
I always found the simple joy from an animal’s companionship disarming. It is really a raw and powerful form of happiness.
“Pop Aye” is a film, by Singaporean Director Kirsten Tan. It has won several awards, especially the Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.