Review of ‘New Abnormal’ – Structural Violence in Pandemic Era Thailand

By Deepesh Vasudev

In “New Abnormal”, we are shown snippets of a life that is unfortunately not abnormal at all. At face value, the scenes in “New Abnormal” are familiar and show the absurd nature of our current lives; but hidden in these vignettes, violence is present. Not only physical but structural violence, where the unique circumstances of society in pandemic era Thailand invoke violence on its people.

There is, of course, physical violence towards the end of the film with a protest being squashed by the police, which is different from structural violence where there are no signs of obvious and direct bodily harm. However, structural violence is present in the details, where the violence is being committed by an actor unintentionally, or without the presence of a physical actor at all.

Structural violence might exist mainly as features of systems and policies, but it is often linked to physical violence. The student, in his dire need to soothe his mental state, orders bubble tea minutes before the curfew, causing the delivery driver to meet with an accident. The scene ends with him trying to count the number of bubbles and put it back in the tea, which moves towards the next instance of the structural violence, poverty. The delivery driver is more focused on the delivery than his own physical wellbeing. He needs to make the delivery, to get paid. Then we meet the poor man, who cannot apply for financial assistance because he has no smartphone to access the website, an instance of structural violence. His predicament of being poor in conjunction with government policies neglecting the needs of those without internet access, led to him being robbed of his right to financial aid.

This section of the poor man and the delivery driver, who needs money, starts and ends with L-cuts, where the audio from the previous shot is still playing well into the next shot. This is done to show how the student, who ordered the bubble tea, and the government, who have created the plan for the remedy grant, have committed violence against the delivery driver and the poor man. However, they are unaware and disregard the violent acts surrounding them, despite being caused by them.

The filmmakers also undertake two stylistic choices to present the reality of this violence in a fictional story. There is no camera movement, all shots are still. They are reminiscent of pictures which, just like vignettes, seem to capture a certain moment in time. Then there are a few characters like the student and the poor man, who speak towards the camera, to the viewer, which is like an interview in a documentary. These stylistic choices, which diverge from standard narrative film styles, might seem absurd at first, but are intentional to suggest that the characters are not actors at all, but real people caught in real predicaments. The real violence of pandemic era Thailand is portrayed through the absurdity of the film. This violence is absurd because it can be easily avoided. In the end, the film will make you question the structures around us, and make you ponder, are they set up to benefit us all?