The Lines that Divide Wang’s Glass World

“I think love is a lot like the other side of the creek. It looks pleasant during the day. But in the evening, we can never know what lurks there.”

~ Wang, 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us

It isn’t often that I stumble on a nuanced Boy’s Love series that makes me think as deeply as the currently airing Thai drama 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us, and much of that has to do with the type of drama it is and the writing behind it.

Years ago, when asked to review BL series, I fell into a world full of interesting stories, met an abundance of friends around the world, and discovered a vast difference between how BL series are presented compared to the gay series I’d watched in the past. For those who follow me, it’s no secret that I prefer deeply emotional dramas, especially those that make me think.

Directed and written by Punnasak Sukee, 180 Degree Longitude goes well beyond making me think. It takes me back to a time when I was young, curious about everything, and starving for knowledge. It takes me back to my early 20s when my grief over my mother’s death drew a line between myself and my alcoholic father. It takes me back to Dr. Bishop’s Philosophy class in college, when philosophy made me realize that it isn’t possible to define life or love, no matter how much we question it.

Because of this, 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us doesn’t fit into a single mold, BL or otherwise. It would be unfair to label it. It’s as elusive as the philosophy I once studied, raising as many questions without fully answering them, and I am in love with how powerful being elusive can be.

We live in a fast-paced world where most people don’t like to be kept guessing or are frustrated if they don’t understand the answer to something. We live in a world of labels, boxes, and the constant simultaneous need to be labeled and yet break free of labels. We live in a social media era where every word thrown out into the world is like bait waiting for sharks to circle it and tear it to pieces. And this makes 180 Degree Longitude that much more refreshing. It starts off having already broken free of the need for labels and definition. It’s character-driven and poetic, presenting itself much like a slow burn stage play.

During the first episode, it becomes increasingly apparent that 180 Degree Longitude, as its title implies, is about the lines that divide us. From the continual way the camera often narrows in on the glass globe Wang (Pond Ponlawit Ketprapakorn) carries to the globe inside Inthawut’s (Nike Nitidon Pomsuwan) bedroom to the play on architectural lines. Each of the three characters is firmly separated from the other, divided by the past, the present, and the looming future. And like the lines that exist in the world around us, each character sees the invisible line separating them in different ways. Wang wants to cross the line, Inthawut wants to both hide from and break free of it, and Sasiwimol (Mam Kathaleeya McIntosh) wants to maintain it. Lines in real life are often practical, such as the lines on a road or the unseen boundaries between land, states, territories, and countries, but they are also lonely.

Like in a stage play, there’s a lot of exposition in 180 Degree Longitude. From the arguments between Mol and Wang to the exaggerated gestures Mol uses to the ‘dancing’ indirect discussions between Wang, Mol, and Inthawut, 180 Degree Longitude doesn’t use action to move the narrative forward. Instead, it uses human emotion, playing off the three leads grief over Siam’s death. It is a human story built on Siam’s tragedy.

As soon as the drama opened, it felt philosophical to me, but the philosophy behind it was cemented when Plato’s Symposium flashed onto the screen in Episode 4. I’m not sure if the Symposium inspires the entire drama, but seeing the book on screen certainly took me back to Dr. Bishop’s class. In truth, this drama is a lot like a ‘drinking party’ with Socrates, Agathon, and Aristophanes center stage discussing love. It explains some of Mol’s narcissism if Agathon inspires her. It makes me wonder if Alcibiades, a man who failed to seduce Socrates, inspired Siam or if Alcibiades, who was also fascinated by but didn’t understand Socrates, inspired Wang. To some extent, I think Wang and Siam are both Alcibiades, although Wang can easily be seen as the comic Aristophanes as well.

It’s been forever since I’ve read the Symposium, enough years that it ages me to reveal the date and leaves me somewhat blurry on the details, but it’s a book that inspired courage in me. Although a certain degree of morality and prejudice has to be set aside to enjoy its full scope, It’s an artistic piece that dives into soulmates and passionate love (eros). In Ancient Greece, there wasn’t a word to describe same-sex love. It was simply a standard practice that didn’t require definition. The Symposium was one of the reads that helped me become comfortable with my own sexuality because who you loved wasn’t a factor. Instead, the topic was love itself.

180 Degree Longitude, like the Symposium, is one of those dramas that no one will walk away from feeling the same about. Some will be bored by the exposition. Some will be renewed by it. Some will be frustrated and confused by the elusiveness. Some will be motivated by it. Many will question the characters’ motives, especially Sasiwimol “Mol.” Mol reminds me a lot of Agathon because he was a tragic poet/dramatist who hosted the symposium (drinking party) after his first tragedy won a play at a dramatic festival. Much like our director Mol, and her award-winning dramas. He was also someone Socrates questioned, and someone who felt somewhat superficial and self-centered to me when I first read the Symposium, which is also a lot like Mol. But I also think there is a lot of truth in Mol. In 180 Degree Longitude, she’s a front and center person who enjoys the spotlight and being celebrated. She also pushes Wang toward the future she hopes for, as if Wang will be the one person who guarantees her happiness. While I, like many others, fight to understand her, I think she has a more significant part to play than simply offering frustration. There’s truth in her as well. She is the product of the life she’s led, her grief and insecurities coloring who she has become, but she still has room to grow.

Although I am closer to Inthawut in age, I relate the most to Wang. Like him, I was trapped between wanting to live up to my dreams, the ones I shared with my deceased mother, and the things my father thought I should be/do. Like Mol, my father was a man haunted by the past and highly set in his ways. He was a man who wanted the best for me but whose dependency on alcohol often betrayed him. He was someone people immediately liked in public, but someone I couldn’t hold a conversation with without arguing with him in private. A few years before his death, we shared a moment that made me understand him better, a private moment that defines how I now look at people like Mol. The scenes between the idealistic Wang and his traditional mother take me back to those moments with my father. It takes me back to a time when neither of us attempted to understand the other.

Love is complicated. How we view love is influenced by the films we watch, the books we read, the art we look at, the culture we live in, and our own personal attractions. 180 Degree Longitude takes love and makes art out of it, throwing away all influences and showcasing how needy but resourceful love is for all of them.

There’s a part of Plato’s Symposium where Aristophanes gives a speech about men and the consequences they faced when going up against the gods. Zeus split people in two to punish them, forever leaving them longing for their other half. Should they find them, they will feel whole again. There’s a lot of duality in 180 Degree Longitude that reminds me of Aristophane’s speech, and it isn’t just because I hope, like most viewers, that Inthawut is somehow Wang’s soulmate. Instead, there’s a much bigger picture drawn. Each of the three characters in this drama has dualistic personas. They are different in person than they are in private. They are also different with each other, depending on who they’re alone with. Therefore, they aren’t just part of a larger soul; they are clearly trying to piece themselves back together as well. And hanging over them is the ghost of Siam, a man we’re slowly beginning to get a picture of as the drama eases forward.

180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us is a healing drama evidently influenced by theater, philosophy, and poetry, a drama that isn’t clearly defined but that should be innately felt. Like the abstract painting hanging on Inthawut’s wall. Abstract art exists in the imagination rather than in concrete reality. Love is abstract. We feel it, but we don’t see it. We are fascinated by it because we don’t understand it. We argue about it because we all relate to it differently.

I’ll conclude this with one of my favorite scenes thus far in 180 Degree Longitude: the bridge. Like the lines clearly drawn in the series, the bridge is clearly being built to bridge a gap, not only for the villagers who will use it, but between Inthawut and the world he’s cut himself off from. For now, Inthawut feels untouchable. He’s the mentor Wang needs and the only man who can keep Wang calm, but he’s also afraid of the scope of his own desires and needs. One side of the bridge represents safety. The other side of the bridge represents danger. Inthawut’s injury as he attempts to cross an incomplete bridge is as symbolic as the bridge itself. There’s nothing safe about walking away from a problem that hasn’t been resolved. Inthawut’s bridge is plank-by-plank full of regrets he’s terrified to face.

I find the symbolism behind 180 Degree Longitude arresting. I don’t think it’s fully meant to be understood except by the writers who penned it. And, even then, writers often write stories from a deep place inside themselves they don’t fully understand. I don’t always entirely grasp my characters when I’m writing a book, but they teach me a lot during the journey of writing it. I feel them more than I understand them.

If there’s one thing viewers can take away from 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us, it’s that love is disquieting. It shakes up lives, creates a little madness (which is seen in Mol’s case), is bittersweet, and often turns them upside down, but it also brings a sense of peace once it’s allowed to flourish.

Like Wang says in Episode 4, “Because the feelings I have for him (Inthawut) can’t be expressed in words,” the feelings I have for 180 Degree Longitude can’t be truly expressed in words. It’s the type of drama that speaks directly to the heart. Some will love it. Some won’t. But it’s a piece of art I’m thrilled the creators behind it decided to share with the world. It’s the type of drama I’ve been hoping to stumble on.

For an addictive artistic piece about damaged, grieving people full of subtle nuances with a hint of the forbidden and the kind of hidden desire and tension that drives people mad, check out 180 Degree Longitude Passes Through Us on Gagaoolala.

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