Must-see Moments: “Siam Sunset”

Death By Refrigerator at 3:20

Perry (Linus Roache) and his wife, Maree (Victoria Hill), are blissfully in love.  Until a refrigerator falls from the sky and crushes Maree to death.  What begins as a lighthearted domestic love story suddenly takes a bizarre, surreal, and blackly comic turn all within the space of a few seconds.  As Perry and Maree lie on the grass holding hands, Perry looks up and suddenly an object from the sky appears off in the distance.  The happy, jaunty music from before ceases and the soundtrack switches to the ridiculous whistle of a bomb dropping, reminiscent of a Wile E Coyote cartoon. Only it’s not a bomb, but a refrigerator, dropped accidentally from a passing plane.  SPLAT.  Maree is no more.

It’s hilarious, sad, shocking, bizarre, and visually striking.  Immediately, everything we thought about this world has been blown apart.  We want to laugh but we’re not sure if we should.  This jarring shift in tone — from cliché Rom-Com to cartoonish surrealism to affecting semi-tragedy — is director John Polson’s signature style in Siam Sunset.  In pitch-perfect black comedy manner, we laugh at the absurdity of death by falling refrigerator even as we grimace at the horrible randomness of life.  Poor Perry.  This death kicks off a series of random moments, whether hilariously violent or violently hilarious, which follow him throughout the film.

Food Coloring at  34:30

Perry goes to Australia for a bus tour vacation in order to deal with his grief.  In his ordinary life back in England, Perry is an industrial chemist who designs colors for a paint company.  He and and fellow bus patron Grace (Danielle Cormack) begin to form an emotional connection, which Perry expresses by mixing various food items into a paste that matches the color of Grace’s sweater:  a sweet, gentle lavender.

A bowl of blueberry topping, a spoonful of rice, a squirt of ketchup, and a dollop of white custard later, Perry replicates the color of Grace’s sweater.  As he tells her:  “Color is like music, it can change your mood.”  This scene is perfectly cinematic: we watch Perry without explanation begin mixing the various food items.  It’s the beauty of discovery, as we realize with each ingredient that Perry is making a color for Grace, and marvel at his ability to invent a color using things on a restaurant table.  The sequence of events is very much in the silent movie tradition, where the simplest movements and actions build upon each other and tell a totally visual story.  In this case, the mixing of food and creation of color express growing affection.

Racing Buses at 46:37

The showdown between the rundown bus Perry and his fellow tourists are on and the high-class luxury bus of a rival tour company is a simple moment of visual humor.  The chaos of Perry’s bus and the calm serenity of the other bus could not be starker and we laugh at Perry’s annoyance with the situation.

This scene’s greatest piece of comedy, however, is not in the visuals but in the soundtrack.  As we cut from Perry and the Whippet bus to the luxury bus gaining behind them, we hear the luxury bus patrons having a sing-a-long to the same tune (“She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain”) that Perry and company were singing earlier.  The random absurdity of this coincidence — that the two bus tours would sing the same song — is one part of the humor.  But the absurdity is taken to an even more farcical level by the fact that the luxury bus patrons sound like a professional choir, complete with gospel voices lilting over-top of the main singers.  The poor patrons of the Whippet bus just can’t compare.  It’s another moment tinged with an element of surreal fantasy in a film that has a deranged but inspired grasp on reality to begin with.

Appropriately Inappropriate Laughter at 58:27

“Do you want to know how my wife died?  A refrigerator fell out of a plane and landed on her.”  How is a person supposed to respond to a story like that?  It’s ridiculous.  It’s absurd.  It’s hilarious.  And so Grace laughs.  She shakes with uncontrollable, inappropriate laughter.  But the beauty of the scene, the happy joy of it, is that Grace’s laughter isn’t really inappropriate at all.  It’s entirely appropriate.  Death by falling refrigerator IS funny.  And the liberation of this moment is undeniable, both for us as an audience and for Perry.  This delicate balance between comedic absurdity and heartfelt tenderness makes Siam Sunset an unusual but charming romantic comedy.

Jennifer Baldwin is a freelance writer and teacher living in metro Detroit. She is a contributor at Libertas Film Magazine and writes about classic movies and culture at her own blog, Dereliction Row.

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