Submitted on Wed, 17 Apr 2013 - 03:02 PM
Films tend to reflect the anxieties and aspirations of society at the time of production. And the latest box-office hit, "Pee Mak Phra Khanong", directed and co-written by Banjong Pisunthanakun, is perhaps no exception.
In previous versions of the story, often entitled "Mae Nak Phra Khanong", a young man (Phi Mak) goes to war in the early Bangkok era and returns to his wife - Mae Nak - without learning that she had actually died with their stillborn infant earlier. Mae Nak becomes fatally vengeful with those who try to expose her until a monk eventually traps her spirit in a terracotta pot.
SPOILER ALERT: Readers planning to watch the new hit are advised to stop reading.
This time though, the story has been changed slightly. Mae Nak is not vengeful and her husband refuses to end their relationship despite her "other-worldliness". Obviously, he doesn't find anything abnormal.
Perhaps, the filmmaker is alluding to how Thais cope with others with differing opinions - particularly on politics and the monarchy. It can also be seen as a commentary on whether LGBT should have equal rights to marriage or not.
The new version of the tale ends with many villagers trying to chase Mae Nak away - but in vain.
This ending reminds me of a famous remark made in May 2010 by veteran actor Pongpat Wachirabanchong, who said that anybody who did not love His Majesty should leave because Thailand belongs to their Father (the King).
It has become common, particularly among the ultra-royalists, to suggest that anybody who opposes the controversial lese majeste law should leave the country. This attitude seems to even have infected powerful Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha, who said last month that Thais who are not comfortable with the lese majeste law should live elsewhere.
Similarly, people with different sexual preferences are still being regarded as "abnormal" and continue facing discrimination despite their rising numbers. The Thai word for gay continues being used as an insult.
Thai society has a long way to go in terms of embracing, or at least accommodating, people of different ideologies or gender.
However, for a society to flourish, diversity should never be limited and nobody should be suppressed or annihilated for having different views or beliefs.
There is a prevailing, perhaps even dominating, belief among many Thais today that political and ideological diversity is a threat to society and national security. Not many realise that it is only in a totalitarian society that citizens are expected to think alike. A society where people are coerced or propagandised into thinking alike is like a vast mono crop, which is highly susceptible to disease that can wipe out the entire harvest in little or no time.
What is abnormal for you may be normal for others, and vice versa, but do we really need to suppress and destroy one another? Is tolerance and compromise possible in Thailand today?
This issue was raised in "Pee Mak Phra Khanong" and it is hoped that this was not lost to moviegoers.