A moment, a unit of time, the universe, the totality of space. Time and space—truly immense subjects to tackle, but they contrast—a moment is small, the universe infinite.
Each Moment is the Universe is a wonderful student short that collapses the distinctions between macro and micro in a paradox fitting of the zen origins of its title. The film follows a Thai man named Chok from death, to rebirth, to old age again—breathlessly racing through the years in way that seems remarkably natural and unhurried. Along the way, the contours of his life change as he loses, and subsequently regains, a purposeful focus on decency and goodness that transcends lifetimes.
The very first line of a film is, “A man doesn’t have enough time in his life for everything” and yet the filmmakers, Bruce Thierry Cheung and Jacob Robinson, seem intent on disproving that thesis by relating a man’s life in 8 minutes. It’s ambitious storytelling temporally, and when pulled off with gusto like in this film or, an otherwise dissimilar short, Jettison Your Loved Ones, it is something to admire. Such a far-reaching narrative is made possible by by blunt, but skillful narration, written by Jeremy Craig Cheung and delivered by Pratya Mothan. There is little in the way of ambiguity, favoring direct propulsion of the film’s themes, but some of the delicateness lacking is recovered in the exquisite cinematography.
Shot on a 7D by Cheung and Robinson, the look of the film deserves highlight. Intimately close handheld, the trademark of the New York student style most recently exemplified by Beasts of the Southern Wild, is balanced favorably with well-composed establishing shots and lovely slo-mo. What the film most reminded me of is a genre of film I see a lot on Vimeo, the travel film. It wasn’t until I looked into the background of the film that I realized how apt this impression was. Taken from the website of the fashion brand Opening Ceremony where Cheung makes fashion films, was this description, “We didn’t have a formal script, just a story that we followed like a road map, from Bangkok to the Mekong River to Chiang Mai. As we weaved from city to city, we filled the film with the people we’d meet along the road…The filming process consisted of just two people, in the middle of nowhere coming from somewhere far away, and going someplace else entirely. “
Fascinating. In blending narrative and the travel film, the filmmakers are, in a way, tracing the footsteps of Chok. Are they looking for similar answers? Are they driven by similar purpose? A life can seem immense in terms of a collection of discrete moments, but a life is itself a speck in the scale of the universe. An epiphany takes only a moment to spark, but with it, connects the soul to universal yearnings that define, and animate existence.