Director: Pailin Wedel
London Film Festival 2019 review
Hope Frozen is a documentary defined by various forms of preservation. On the most explicit level, Pailin Wedel’s tender film tells the story of two-year-old Einz Naovaratpong, whose brain was cryonically frozen in the hope that she can one day live again. But as we delve into a series of home movie clips from Einz’s life, up to and including her final days as a victim of brain cancer, Wedel’s feature also manifests as a poignant reflection of the very human need to preserve the people and moments of the past through memory, and in this case, through film.
For Einz’s mother Nareerat and her father Sahatorn, however, the recorded footage of the Naovaratpong family – from their home videos, to the footage shot for this very documentary – doesn’t just help us to remember the life of their daughter, but may also some day help Einz to remember her parents and all they did for her. In one particularly touching clip, Nareerat and Sahatorn record a video message for future Einz, shortly before she passes away and undergoes the procedure to freeze her brain.
Though it would be tempting to regard this gesture as an act of wishful thinking from two parents unable to process and accept the tragic death of their daughter, Wedel’s film refrains from judging its subjects or sensationalising their story, approaching the Naovaratpong family’s venture on their own terms.
That being said, Wedel still finds plenty of expressive and evocative imagery in the skyline of Bangkok, as well as the rural family home that lies outside of the city. At its most visually poetic, Hope Frozen suggests a land in an eternal twilight, mirroring the in-between state of both Einz and the family that can never fully grieve her passing.
But while much of the film’s thematic meat concerns boundaries, points of transition, and states of limbo, Wedel and her subjects also manage to evoke a genuine reconciliation between spirituality and science. On the one hand, you’ve got Einz’s older brother Matrix spending a period as a monk as he searches for clarity and answers. On the other hand, there’s Matrix and his father looking almost giddy as they study and photograph the technology of the cryonics lab, while arguing that Einz’s eventual return can be considered its own form of reincarnation.
All the while, it’s made quite clear that the chances of Einz ever recovering are crushingly slim, and yet, if only for the length of a viewing, we still find ourselves caught up in the bold optimism of the Naovaratpong family as they place their faith in a future society that has made discoveries and innovations beyond anything we can currently imagine. In a time of mass existential anxiety, it can often be a struggle to buy into the comforting conjecture that mankind is on a trajectory of progress and evolution, but in a manner that feels honest and sincere, Hope Frozen lets us momentarily indulge in the notion that our children may some day wake up in a world a little better than our own.