The Otherworldly World


Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen begins with the specter of death but the unfolding narrative is not seeped in tragedy. Rather, it is a meditative exploration of loss and the afterlife as seen through the filters of childlike wonder and bewilderment.

At the beginning of the film we see an unconscious boy named Tantra (Ida Dagus Radithya Mahijasena) being transferred from a gurney to a hospital bed. A young girl who happens to be his twin sister named Tantri (Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih) looks over by the door not fully entering the room. Yet the portentousness does not emanate from this hospital procedure but in Tantri’s crushing of a raw egg, its yolk strewn on the floor. Soon it is revealed that Tantra has a brain tumor, seemingly fatal, that it causes his body to lose all senses putting him in a coma. When this news is revealed by her parents, Tantra still remains outside of the room, unable to fully comprehend the situation and the possibility of his brother’s eventual demise. 

We get a sense of how inseparable they are not just because of their fraternal bond but with the little quirks that magnify their union—like how one of them prefers the egg yolk and other the white, to recurring images of duality in the film. When at the start we see Tantri crush an egg with only the yellow part prominently shown, we also see a foretelling in one scene where she discovers she is eating a yolk-less boiled egg. Tantri and Tantra, after all, are “buncing” twins—in Balinese culture, refers to a male-female twin whose birth is said to have a supernatural charge to it. Foregoing the mechanics of plot, the film focuses instead in the process of Tantri’s coping inviting the audience to inhabit the space of Tantri’s consciousness—her recollections of time spent with her twin, her drifting into dreamlike states where eerie, ghostlike children emerge from cornfields rolling and imitating the flapping of chickens, and an imagined existence inside and outside the hospital room where Tantra is alive and well, telling her mythical stories of moon goddesses and monsters.


Along with the egg that symbolizes the yin-yang balance of nature, the moon is also a recurring image in the film. During one of their quiet conversations, one of Tantri’s imaginings, her twin brother says he feels like he is the moon, whose brightness is fading away. Tantri replied, “I don’t see you fading. You shine brightly just like the full moon.” While Tantri engages with the illusion of a fully-well Tantra and constantly finds herself drifting into the dark night with the mythical moon of Tantri’s stories hanging above and observing her dance-like rituals, her mother (Ayu Laksmi) retreats into singing songs of pain that slowly slips into an acceptance of fate.

This otherworldly depiction seems to be the only way to portray how this bond extends way beyond the material world, an alternate world coexisting with the present, incomprehensible one. A realm where both she and Tantra, adorned in paint and dried corn leaves, can dance like roosters, hopping on beds as if mirroring a cockfight, only their movements seem to complement in an act of understanding each other, the supernatural and the real blending into one space. Grounded in Javanese culture, the presence of this performance-like sequences serves not to be exoticized but to be felt, to allow the audience to bask in silence and contemplation, while the camera captures the point at which life and death, embodiment and transience, coalesce.

But there is so much more to Andini’s film than its depiction of Asian, or more specifically Southeast Asian cultures and beliefs, as comparisons to such films like Apichatpong Weeraseethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, wherein the supernatural and fantastical dwells very much in our midst, are easily drawn. Andini’s film and filmmaking, reflects Tantri’s passage in the film, both engaging in the resilient act of memory-making and preservation, resisting the disruptions of death and disequilibrium brought about by modernization and globalization, that is just beyond the borders of our rural, tranquil spaces.

– Jay Rosas 

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