Earlier this week, as I was walking across Seattle Pacific University’s campus, another professor stepped away from a huddle of students and shouted my name. When I turned, he made a megaphone of his hands and roared, “Have you seen it yet?”

I know this professor well enough that I knew exactly what movie he meant. “Yes!” I shouted back.

“Isn’t it great?” He opened his arms as if he were asking about the weather.

“It’s….” I hesitated. I didn’t want to disappoint him. “It’s… something!”

“Not just my favorite movie of the year,” he shouted for all the world to hear. “It’s my favorite movie of all time!”

Don’t you love that feeling — when you love something so much you cannot wait to celebrate it with the whole world? It’s a rare experience for me. And no, I don’t feel that way about Everything Everywhere All of the Time (although I enjoyed the movie). But I have felt that way three times in 2022 already, about three very different movies.

The good news for my colleague is that Everything Everywhere is playing, for the moment, at several theaters around Seattle. Moviegoers have a good chance of seeing it on a big screen. The bad news for me is that it’s already too late for almost all of you to see any of the three films I’m excited about the way it was meant to be seen: in a dark theater, with a crowd of people, on a big screen.

As I reflect on my favorite films of 2022 so far, I longing for a retreat so I can write hundreds of pages about them. This spot, which shows up in Memoria, looks just right. [Image from the Madman Films trailer.]

Alexandre Koberidze’s playful magical-realism romance with the Georgian town of Kutaisi, titled What Do We See When We Look At the Sky?, is a sprawling, meandering journey of discovery. It’s a movie to live in and explore at a leisurely pace for several hours. But I’ve had no chance to see it on the big screen, and at this point you won’t either. (At the moment, it’s streaming on MUBI and it’s rentable on Apple TV and Amazon.)

After Yang, Kogonada’s much-anticipated sci-fi meditation on memory and grief, fulfills the promise of his first feature film Columbus, drawing out Colin Farrell’s best performance since The New World. But After Yang never played on Seattle big screens — which is a great loss for Seattle moviegoers. (Thanks for nothing, A24.) I had to organize a big-screen experience of my own — and now its exquisite imagery will probably be discovered by most audiences on screens far too small to do Kogonada’s beautiful work any justice.

But the most frustrating situation of all is this one:

The latest film from writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who has made some of the most exquisitely enchanting and unsettling films I’ve ever seen — Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, for example is quite unlike any theatrical experience I’ve had before. Memoria is meant to surround you with shifting soundscapes of weather, radio signals, far more mysterious noises, and silences that seem more like living presences than quiet.

Since you’re unlikely to get to see Memoria anytime soon, be cautioned: I’m going to go into detail describing the story, and that may spoil some of the surprise factor. But I’ll keep the film’s best secrets to myself, as I sincerely hope you’ll get to experience it someday.

Tilda Swinton plays Jessica, a woman investigating mysteries — archaeological, psychological, spiritual, historical — in Memoria. [Image from the Madman Films trailer.]

By immersing you in its otherworldliness, Memoria draws you into the experience of its troubled protagonist: Jessica, an orchidologist living in Medellín, Columbia, who, like Julie in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, is being haunted by, stalked by, and even pummeled by jarring eruptions of sound.

The first Boom! startles her from sleep. And there are more to come as she visits her hospitalized sister (Agnes Brekke) in Bogotá. After a long silence in the hospital room, Jessica’s sister wakes to describe how she is racked with guilt for having rescued a dog and then abandoned it. This only troubles Jessica further, as she soon finds a mysterious dog following her around. Is it possible that she might be haunted by the consequences of others’ failings?

I like the surprising line of connection that Mike D’Angelo of The AV Club draws for us: “Not since Todd Haynes’ Safe has a murkily understood, possibly psychosomatic ailment been reconceived in so haunting and unforgettable a fashion.” I might agree with that: There is an unsettling horror beneath the surface — literally, underground — in this film that reminds me of the nameless curse that fractured and isolated Carol (Julianne Moore) in Haynes’s classic. But I also thought of moments in David Lynch’s films in which we sense a spiritual force of darkness simmering around the edges of our understanding.

A great deal of credit for that effect goes to the sound-design team of Raúl Locatelli (sound director), Akritchalerm Kalayanamitr (sound designer), Javier Umpiérrez (sound designer). And, as if to draw attention to their work, Weerasethakul follows Jessica to a sound studio, where she engages a sound designer named Hernán, describing the sound that afflicts her. He happily strives to recreate it for her, intrigued and challenged. Perhaps by recreating it, Jessica will come to understand her curse a little better.

And she does get something out of it — a song in which Hernán has incorporated the sound. The film leaves us to decide if this is just a self-serving, self-promotional effort by an enterprising young recording artist, or if Hernán has blessed Jessica with the gift of his attention. Maybe he has redeemed her suffering, to some extent, by making something meaningful of her madness. It’s hard to say.

Jessica touches an historical mystery — a hole drilled in a skull unearthed in Columbia. [Image from the Madman Films trailer.]

An archaeologist (Jeanne Balibar) invites Jessica into a restricted lab to show her bones unearthed during a deep-earth tunneling project, bones that include a skull with a mysterious puncture — a remnant of a ritual that was carried out to “release bad spirits.” This gives us another thread to track through the film: the opening of cavities in people, in the earth, and in the spirit world in ways that might be unleashing transformative forces.

But then things start getting stranger. Jessica begins to doubt her sanity. People she thought dead turn out to be alive and well, and some she spends time with vanish without a trace. Sound effects and surreality begin to resemble the confounding multi-dimensional sensations of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return. Has Jessica stepped through into some alternate dimension? Is she a pawn in some kind of spiritual warfare?

Jessica angles her head like a satellite dish, receiving strange signals in Memoria. [Image from the Madman Films trailer.]

The film’s final act, which takes us out of the city and into the wilderness (where Weerasethakul always seems most at home), is its most enthralling — a series of long-take scenes between Jessica and an aging fisherman named (brace yourself!) Hernán who tells her he has never left this place. What follows is one of the quietest, strangest, and most entrancing scenes I’ve witnessed in years (and that will soon be followed by another that’s even stranger). Together, Jessica and the second Hernán (played with rough, real-world authority by Elkin Díaz) begin to put the pieces of their separate mysteries together to discover that they are both a part of a larger puzzle, one that stretches across time and space.

And it is here that the film veers into Tree of Life territory, with a long and wordless shot that rivals the dinosaur scene in Malick’s film with its “What did I just see?” quality. “Is this part of the same movie?”

I won’t explain further, as I would hope that others have similar opportunities to be surprised. Suffice it to say that I think Weerasethakul sees Jessica as a sort of avatar for all artists — someone who serves as a human satellite dish, receiving (unwillingly at first, but eventually with a cautious intent) the ongoing echoes of past injustices, gathering and focusing them as a witness to the truths that are still relevant no matter how long ago they took place, or how deeply buried they lie in the strata of the earth. At least, that’s how I’m reading it on this first — and, perhaps, last — experience of the film. It’s as if Jessica can touch the curve of a violin and hear the music it has absorbed over time, the sound that goes on resonating.

Hernán (Elkin Díaz) ponders his supernatural burdens in Memoria. [Image from the Madman Films trailer.]

So, why is it so unlikely that I will get to share this movie with you?

Justin Chang at The Los Angeles Times explains:

… “Memoria” is the beneficiary of an appropriately experimental release strategy devised by its distributor, Neon. … The idea is for the movie to play exclusively and eternally on the big screen, one theater and one city at a time; it will never be made available on DVD or home-streaming platforms. When this plan was announced months ago, some dismissed it as elitist — hardly the first time that word has been hurled in Weerasethakul’s direction. Others, myself included, couldn’t help but applaud Neon for treating “Memoria” as not just another chunk of streamable content, but rather as a work of art that demands to be approached on its own terms and experienced under the best possible conditions.

To put it another way: Weerasethakul doesn’t make convenient movies, and our culture of instant cinematic gratification could scarcely be more antithetical to the way he perceives the world. And so there is something to be said for allowing his movie to reach its audience at a pace commensurate with its own serene, meditative rhythms. When you go to see “Memoria” — and I urge you to make time to see it — you may feel an instinctive kinship with Jessica from that jolt of an opener: Here you are, just like her, having left home to find yourself sitting in darkness, watching and listening and trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. There’s pleasure in this discombobulation, and within a few moments, you find yourself warming to Jessica’s company — and marveling at Swinton’s ability to both harness and downplay her natural magnetism.

I couldn’t say it any better than Chang has.

I’m grateful I had that experience with a small audience of strangers at Seattle’s Egyptian Theater. I wish you a similar opportunity. Just as Jessica seeks out massive refrigerators to preserve the “testimony” of her orchids, Weerasethakul is crafting cinematic time capsules, vessels made of image and sound that will go on bearing witness of the signals he receives. And I am grateful for such an opportunity to receive his witness. It expands and enriches my sense of all that is going on beyond the reach of my senses in the world.

Every age and every culture has its prophets. Weerasethakul is one of those visionaries alive and well and working among us. We should pay attention and pursue opportunities to do so.