There’s power in Elusiveness
The depth and poignancy behind the Thai drama 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us
I’ve always had a fascination with breaking things down. Most of this need stems from growing up inside a library. For part of my youth, my family and I were homeless, living between our car and the relief the air conditioner in the local public library gave us. While I didn’t have a home or television at the time, I had books. Lots and lots of books.
And that’s where my love for words and breaking down words began. It’s why I started writing and why I later majored in literature. It’s also the inspiration behind a project I started earlier this year about two boys who fall in love inside the aisles of a library, a place where they find safety behind books.
I rarely find that same kind of love in a drama. While one of my new passions over the last few years has been breaking down film and television (both for this site as Regina Ryals and The BLXpress as Drama Llama) after my own experiences being on film sets, it’s rare to find a drama that encompasses everything that 180 Degree Longitude does.
In retrospect, 180 Degree Longitude isn’t a script suited for television. Instead, it’s a play suited for the stage. It takes a lot of courage to create a series that had as much a chance of failing because of that as it did succeeding. A typical film and drama have a precise antagonist and action that moves it forward. There isn’t always a clear protagonist in classic literature, poetry, and classical stage plays. Much of the action is simply narrative discussion, and the antagonist is often an idea or a ‘bigger picture’ presence like society.
180 Degree Longitude takes literature, the stage, and discussion and makes it work. Not only does the theme make sense to those who ‘listen,’ the villain makes sense to those who ‘feel’ it, and the reason behind it makes sense to those who ‘look.’ But there’s enough electric sexual tension and the human need to understand each other to keep even those who don’t necessarily see the bigger picture glued to the screen.
Since this series began, I’ve talked a lot about the objects that appear in it, the line that binds them, and the literary influences, such as The Symposium. But Episode 5 takes it even further than that, although the line is still continuously stressed.
Idealism and realism meet with Wang and Inthawut, both characters separated by the line that also binds them, which the bed scene in this episode clearly represents. The line between them on the blanket is the line that defines their differences, but the discussion they have and the mutual feelings they share is the line that connects them. Siam was once Inthawut’s mentor. Inthawut is now Wang’s; only Wang is idealistic enough to learn from Inthawut and teach him. Both had love stories that defined them, Inthawut with Siam and Wang with the bullied student at school. Love isn’t always merely about romance. Sometimes it goes deeper than that. Sometimes it’s the energy, mind, experiences, and soul that connects people. Both Wang and Inthawut have similar stories, divided only by time and their decisions. Both wonder about the other while also fearfully skirting the real issue. I love that the true antagonist in this story is fear and the hero and antihero are the line.
The story’s villain isn’t necessarily a person but can be seen in the characters. One of the many reasons people both connect to and are repelled by Sasiwimol is because she represents more than the extroverted character she is. Mol (Mam Kathaleeya) is the larger-than-life society people fear resisting. Inthawut (Nike Nitidon) represents those who run or choose compromise when they want to fight against an unjust society. Wang (Pond Ponlawit) is the resistance. This drama is one deep discussion filled with passion. It’s easy to fall in love with idealism, and that’s why it’s so easy to love Wang. It’s easy to relate to fear, which is why Inthawut is so easy to understand. It’s easy to be disillusioned and disappointed by politics, and that’s why it’s so easy to be disappointed in Mol.
And all of this brings me back to the literary influence. The depth of symbolism in this series is incredible. Wang’s ‘Rosalin’ is his grief over Siam, as if she was a way to cure him of his feelings for the man he worshiped. From the pages of The Symposium to Shakespeare’s As You Like It, 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us is a story about disguising ourselves and hiding from our fears while also needing and wanting to be free of them.
Wang’s coming out to Inthawut was a pivotal moment that set up what’s to come. He’s opened a door, allowing Inthawut to see the person Wang is and the changes he wants to make. He’s left Inthawut the chance to do the same. Inthawut is his missing puzzle piece, that missing link to what Wang’s always innately known, what he believes in, and what he wants.
With each new episode, 180 Degree Longitude comes closer and closer to crossing the lines it set in motion. It’s bittersweet and impactful. And while there’s not a lot of action outside of the discussions between the characters, in reality, life is all about discussions, debates, arguments, confessions, sentiments, and conversations that change us.
180 Degree Longitude is fast becoming one of my all-time favorite series. It takes me back to my high school days when my choir teacher allowed me to go to my first play with the class to see Phantom of the Opera off-Broadway, even though I didn’t have the money to pay for it. It was a magical evening full of opening curtains, poetic rhetoric, and haunting music. I was the phantom for a few hours, a man who hid behind a mask. For a child disillusioned by the society that failed my family and me, it was a night that let me ‘feel’ and embrace that. That night, I discovered the stage was as powerful as the books I lost myself in inside the library.
Art is an exciting way to invite society in. It’s also a way to shut people out. My alcoholic father was an artist who painted pictures I never understood, paintings full of his unspoken thoughts and the demons he hid from us. Back then, I was angry at my father for all the debt we were in and the hell we had to go through to get out of it. But sometimes, I look at his paintings now that he is gone, and I shiver. There’s fear and disillusionment there.
For a theatrical experience on screen that can fulfill you in unimaginable ways if you are willing to immerse yourself in it, check out 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us on Gagaoolala. And to the writers, cast, crew, and producers behind this series, thank you for being brave. We are all proud of you.