Pop Aye is a road movie about a middle-aged architect who has lost his joie de vivre, and an elephant he used to know. Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) cannot seem to please his wife or his co-workers. When he spots Pop Aye, the circus animal that his family raised, walking around Bangkok with a handler, he buys the enormous sad-eyed beast and stores him in his yard — until Bo (Penpak Sirikul) tells him their marriage is over because she does not want to be his zookeeper.
Thana and Pop Aye set off for the farm where they grew up. On the trek, they meet a variety of characters, each of whom assists Thana in some way, including a pair of policemen who take the travelers into custody for a spell. At an old gas station, he meets a young man who is waiting to die, though he is not sick in a physical way. He longs to see his wife again, he says. Thana is both kindhearted and pragmatic as he suggests ways for the man to get what he needs. Later, two women in a karaoke bar present Thana with options for his own satisfaction, and the decision he makes — based on what he thinks he is supposed to want — sheds some light on Thana’s previous life of quiet desperation.
Thana’s dedication to getting Pop Aye to the safety of the countryside farm shows a man who is not as paunchy and burned out as he perceives himself to be. We watch the elephant learn to trust him, finally allowing him to climb up for a ride, instead of Thana having to lead him around on a rope.
This small, charming story has its tense dramatic moments as well as instances of silly comedy, but above all it is a meditation on what we believe we once had, and what we have lost. We romanticize the past, imbuing places and time with meaning that shapes who we are, and building profundity and connection into relationships that might never have existed the way we thought they did. But the past has a way of coming back and calling one home. asks whether it is worth the effort to reconcile our nostalgia with reality. The truth would shatter the young man waiting to die, but when Thana finds his, he has found enough inner resolve to handle it without coming apart. — Jennifer Levin