Bridging the Gap
The wide emotional appeal of 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us
From beginning to end, I fell in love with the Thai drama 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us and everything it represents, especially the focus on politics and the lines dividing generations. The acting, symbolism, and artistic nuances are nothing short of brilliant.
I’ve talked a lot about 180 Degree Longitude since it first aired, delving into the philosophy that inspired it, the art that appears in it, and the literary and stage references evident to those with a background in theatre and literature. With the final episode airing Sunday/Monday, I’m going to wrap up how I feel about the series by focusing less on the scholastic and more on the broad emotional appeal.
A narrative thinkpiece driven by its dialogue and emotional expression, 180 Degree Longitude takes a hard look at post-traumatic stress, politics, and generational trauma. And it does it by making it relatable to multiple generations. Three characters representing different stages of life and different viewpoints appeal to a broader audience, from older viewers to young, making it universally relevant, whether the viewer lives inside Thailand or outside of it. The character a viewer feels closest to depends largely on their age and experiences.
For me, that character is Inthawut (Nike Nitidon). I’m around Inthawut’s age, and my first same-sex romance was tainted by trauma. Forced apart by homophobic parents after we were caught kissing, her family moved away while I suffered a beating at my father’s hands. It left me scarred and unwilling to come out as bisexual until I was much older. And when that time came, there was no loud coming out for me. It was a hidden thing shrouded by the trauma of my youth that slowly became a thing I am.
Like the horizontal lines in the series, I looked composed and trustworthy, but appearances can be deceiving. Instead, I was fragile and desperate to connect with someone I could share my trauma with, someone that could help me shoulder the burden. As I grew older and met new people, I realized that the younger generations were louder, prouder, and passionate in a way I was too afraid to be. Like the vertical line that is Wang in 180 Degree Longitude, reaching for the sky amidst an unjust world that feels stuck and unbending.
I started to reason through things at some point, but understanding doesn’t happen overnight. Our beliefs come primarily from things we were taught to believe, which are often corrupted. Working through that corruption means a lot of unraveling. From straight lines to jagged ones. There is a lot of fear and anger, needs and desires all colored by experience and time. And then there’s loneliness, an emotion that makes people desperate to fill the void loneliness creates. Wang (Pond Ponlawit), Sasiwimol (Kathaleeya Mam), and Inthawut (Nike Nitidon) truly are their own lines, divided as much by their thoughts and beliefs as they are by time and trauma. It’s hard to watch but super insightful to be a part of.
180 Degree Longitude takes a hard look at what post-traumatic stress and generational trauma can do to family and friends. I hurt for all of them, although personally, I find I hurt the most for Inthawut. He’s built a perceived safe utopia for himself, only to have it invaded and questioned by Wang and Mol before facing what he’d hidden away from. As people, we often seek to create an ideal world for ourselves, but what ideal means is open to interpretation and often doesn’t actually exist. Wang and Mol appeared inside the safe ‘ideal’ Inthawut hid behind and shook up his world. Tormented souls have a lot of reason to work through and little trust in themselves. Inthawut has a lot of insecurities and has never come to terms with his sexuality, but he is suddenly forced to face that.
In Inthawut’s case, he’s only had a short period of time to deal with the trauma he’s carried for years and less than twenty-four hours from coming out of the state of shock baring his soul to Wang put him in. He is placed in the awkward position of choosing between the past he’s just now faced and a future he hasn’t had time to consider. He slowly begins accepting his guilt in the face of a young man that looks remarkably like the man he loved, and he needs the time to decide if he loves Wang or the shadow of Siam. But every time he steps away to think, either Mol or Wang appear.
While I pity Inthawut and relate the most to his pain, Wang IS the wake-up call Inthawut truly needs to overcome what he’s repressed. As much as it hurts to see his wounds ripped open, Inthawut needs to face himself, look into his reflection, and step free of his ghosts.
Which brings me to Wang. I am impressed with actor Pond Ponlawit and his ability to hold his own amidst veteran performers. I rarely see him holding a script in the behind-the-scenes photos often shared online. To be off-book (no longer needing a script to rehearse) is impressive. I’ve always been good at retaining information but less than stellar at remembering something word for word and line by line. So, I’ve always been impressed with the actors I’ve met on set here in the U.S., who are entirely off-book.
Pond also delivers the emotional scenes with the kind of pain-filled eyes that capture audiences’ hearts, and he certainly has captured hearts. A quick scroll through the drama’s hashtags reveals how taken viewers are with him. Wang is often the one viewers want to protect the most.
While I relate to and hurt the most for Inthawut, it’s easy to see why people are so taken with Wang. He’s passionate, young, idealistic, and charmingly open about his feelings. He pushes for more from Inthawut, but he’s also accepting in a way no one else in Inthawut’s life has been. And acceptance is a lot more seductive to someone who has never had it than anything else. Politically, Wang represents the revolution and change in 180 Degree Longitude. Audiences immediately cling to him because we want change. We’re all desperate for the acceptance he offers. Even though Inthawut needs time to absorb what’s happening to him, we’re all desperate to see Inthawut open up to him because Inthawut represents the world we wish would open itself up to change rather than simply accepting what is.
But Wang, too, is somewhat confused about his own identity. For his entire life, he’s been the replacement, love, and validation his mother needed after losing her ex-husband. The terms of endearment they use for each other–e.g., “honey”– clearly reveals the blurred reality they all live in. Wang loves his father, but he’s also lost himself inside his father’s identity. I cheered for Wang when he finally regained his identity in Episode 7. The intensity of that episode for all of them was potent, but especially for Wang and In. I wanted to hug Wang for being brave enough to say, “Let’s talk about me instead of dad.” Which finally separated him from the man everyone had replaced Siam with. That moment had so much duality and desperation. He wanted to connect with his father but also be himself. He wanted to move past the confusion over what he wanted and needed, and it was an empowering step forward for him to say, “I’m not Siam.” But it was also a tough place for Inthawut to be in because Inthawut technically hasn’t come out yet. And coming out is something everyone finds the courage to do on their own at their own time.
This brings me finally to Sasiwimol, portrayed beautifully by Kathaleeya Mam. As much as we, as viewers, struggle over our feelings for Mol, she represents everything she is supposed to. She is the conservative society/government that hasn’t entirely accepted homosexuality. She tolerates it rather than accepts it. She represents those in power who don’t want change. But it is evident she loves her son, her deceased ex-husband, and Inthawut.
Change is the hardest to accept by those who have grown comfortable in their existence and beliefs. As someone who grew up in a conservative town under conservative leadership and inside a conservative family, I see Sasiwimol in everyone who once surrounded me. And that’s where it gets complicated. Because, like Wang, I love the people in my life. I care for them, and although I fought to step into my own identity and fought even harder to try and get them to understand, I never lost that love for them.
Mol is the struggle to understand.
This drama is influenced by philosophy, the stage, and literature with references from Thomas More, Plato, Shakespeare, modern philosophy, and more, including the scene in the bedroom in Episode 7 where Mol begs Inthawut. It resembles Homeric supplication, especially in the Iliad when Thetis entreats Zeus. Thetis wants her son to be a god, her plans for Achilles clouding her judgment over anything else. She uses emotion to win over those around her, much like the speeches those in power deliver. It’s easy to be blinded by rhetoric.
Mol reminds me of many characters, from the theatrical Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to Thetis to Agathon and more. She’s a collection of people caught up in their truths while also being the politics we struggle with. No matter where you live, there’s a conservative, unbending side to politics that we fight to move past. We are frustrated with Mol because we are supposed to be frustrated with her while also caring about her.
The props, the writing, the music … All of it has a part in this series, the roles they play bolstering what the characters offer us.
In 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us, Wang is trying to separate himself from his father and mother while also needing to be closer to his dad while making his mother understand who he is.
Inthawut is being forced to face himself and see beyond the ghost of the man he loved and worshiped to consider the son a possible partner.
Mol is the unbending society that needs to face that change is something that happens for trust to occur. There’s a selfishness to her because society is innately selfish. A small part of me understands her grief, but a more significant part of me wants to make her see reason.
And it’s all beautifully done by three brilliant actors who are passionate about the parts they are playing with a script and drama the people behind it are passionate about presenting.
Although this drama is full of nuanced storytelling, anyone can enjoy it and everyone will take something from it, even if it’s simply the healing needed to overcome a shared grief. But I hope more people take the time to watch, to look for the messages hidden within, and share it with the world. The piece written above is what I’ve taken from the series, but how people feel about it and take from it is an individual, personal experience. No matter how it concludes, and there are many ways in which it could end, it’s made its way onto my favorite drama list. But like the bridge Wang completed, I hope we see each of these characters find a way to connect to the world and each other in a way that welcomes the change their world and ours needs. I am very interested in what everyone involved with this drama, both cast and crew, are doing next.
For a drama with wide appeal and a message to share, check out 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us with subtitles in various languages on Gagaoolala.
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Check out the OST for 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us performed by Pond Ponlawit below.
You can find a subtitled interview with actor Pond Ponlawit at the YT channel below. Show them some love and subscribe. They also have other 180 Degree Longitude content.