At least a decade has passed since I’ve last watched Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe, but the film — which was originally released in 2003 — still remains as vivid in my memory as any movie I’ve seen more recently.
Part of that’s due to its surreal storyline about two lonely souls who find themselves drawn together through a series of unlikely events, a storyline that’s enhanced by Ratanaruang’s assured direction and Christopher Doyle’s lush cinematography. And part of that’s undoubtedly due to the circumstances surrounding my first viewing of the movie; I watched it while staying with my friend Todd for the Toronto International Film Festival, and I was filled with the high of being at a film festival mixed with the sense of alienation that comes with being in a strange city.
But I would be sorely remiss if I didn’t also mention the film’s soundtrack as a factor. Composed at the Hualampong Riddim studio by Vichaya Vatanasapt in collaboration with Small Room’s Jettamon Malayota, the Last Life in the Universe soundtrack is filled with haunting, melancholy ambient compositions that meld perfectly with the film’s subdued storyline, restrained performances, and dreamy visuals.
The film’s theme — which is actually a movement in a longer song titled “Untitled (Are You Alone? Are You Lonely?)” — is a perfect example of the soundtrack’s tone and style, and one of my favorite pieces of film music, period. With drifting synths and sparse piano notes reminiscent of Harold Budd, the theme rings with a sense of loneliness and mono no aware. It’s a fragile and ephemeral piece that’s absolutely captivating and transfixing, such that I don’t want to even breathe while it’s playing lest I accidentally break the spell. And when it ends after just a few short minutes, I immediately replay it so that I can get lost within its evocative tones all over again.
Unfortunately, it’s nigh-impossible to buy a copy of Last Life in the Universe’s soundtrack anywhere and it’s currently unavailable on any major streaming services. All that’s readily available are a few YouTube videos (like the one embedded above), but even some of those are incomplete. Which is frustrating, but also feels kind of fitting given the music’s evanescent nature.