Thailand (2017) Dir. Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit
Death. Not a pretty subject to discuss but it is one we have to face up to eventually in our lives. Thai director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit is intent on facing this topic head on with Die Tomorrow, an anthology of sorts inspired by real life stories of unfortunate and regular but untimely deaths, but held together by asking one simple question – what would you do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?
The films opens by sharing the somewhat unsettling statistic that roughly 7,200 deaths an hour occur on a daily basis, which equates to two deaths a second. To illustrate this point, there is a counter running at the top of the screen during the intertitles to keep score of how many fatalities theoretically happen during the film’s brisk 74-minute run, a chilling reminder of how real this all is.
Yet the exploration is through fictional assumptions by Thamrongrattanarit of what may have happened in the 24 hours preceding these unfortunate demises, or simply featuring people in a situation where death is soon to be upon them. For instance, the first story is of a teenage girl killed when a truck crashed into a hotel minimart the night before her graduation.
We are taken back to a few hours earlier where she and her friends are discussing their futures and how the girl volunteers to refresh their beer stock. What is to say had one of the others gone down instead they would have died? Or perhaps as it was someone else, the accident may not have happened at all? Does fate work that way for the individual or the masses?
Other incidents given a fleeting look include a man who died at the stock exchange which nobody noticed until five hours later, and a plane mysteriously disappearing with no wreckage or anything found in the subsequent search. One the more pedestrian front is a veteran musician dying peacefully in his sleep at home having been massaged by his daughter.
Elsewhere, a young woman returns to Bangkok from the US to reunite with her brother who is being a bit stroppy. He refugees to go out to dinner with his sister but lets her borrow his motorcycle instead to visit the restaurant. This vignette is preceded by the last batch of photos she took with her camera, the final one being the puppy she pulled over to capture, prior to a power pole falling on her.
As much as death is a huge inconvenience for the deceased, the people left behind also suffer, like in the previous example where the brother has to come to terms with the sour note her left things with his sister. The most interesting contributor on that front is an elderly man who complains about outliving his wife and his son, hating how he is left to live alone without them. This sounds selfish until we later see him celebrating his 104th birthday!
By framing each incident within the central question of knowing about dying beforehand, Thamrongrattanarit is able to run the gamut of gallows humour and sad tragedy in these skits. The former comes from a toddler bawling her eyes out when her father tells her it is inevitable she will dies one day, to a slightly older boy who gets his take on death from Reddit of all places!
The most tragic story involves a desperate, depressed male student posting a goodbye message on Facebook before jumping from his death moments after his ex-girlfriend refuses to speak with him. She is shown mocking his desperation and claiming if he kills himself it’s nothing to do with her. Maybe it isn’t, but maybe had she told him she once loved him he may not have jumped; then again, he sounded like he was trying to say goodbye to her personally so this closure might not have made any difference.
What we take from this scenario though is the content of the lad’s final message – he says he is too weak to face this world so saying goodbye is the one time he gets to be brave. It’s a divisive way at look at suicide (and as someone who has been suicidal I can attest it is a scary place to be) that applies to death itself in terms of bringing about a release from suffering.
Our centenarian from earlier is asked if there is a good side to death, which he struggles to answer yet repeats how he is ready to die because it would put an end to life without his wife. Quite how the rest of his family, like his grandchildren and great-grandchildren feel about this isn’t shared but I doubt they’d be pleased at being so easily dismissed.
Fate is a funny thing, explored in a bittersweet moment for a young actress who gets to be the face of a brand of skin scream she has been after, which she only got when the original choice, a popular singer and actress, was killed the day before. She has to smile for the cameras whilst the torment of how she earned this good fortune is eating her up inside.
Each one of the main segments is presented in a 1:1 picture ratio (like an Instagram video clip), either an artistic statement or a clever ploy to get young audience members to pay attention, whilst the wraparound clips and images are 16:9. Thamrongrattanarit needn’t have been so experimental with his presentation as the subject matter alone is enough to hold our attention, whilst the naturalism of the dialogue and the performances in the skits anchor everything in a sense of reality.
It might be too arthouse for some sensibilities with its loose narrative and philosophical discussion about death rather than pure drama, but the whimsy and potency of Die Tomorrow provides significant food for thought, reminding us to give our loved ones a hug – after all, we never know what tomorrow may bring…