To state it broadly, Primbon is a book that contains some numerical rules that predict the fate of marriages and people’s lives. Some people would also call it numerology, but it is rarely a way of life or embedded in religion for them, unlike the Javanese on whom this movie is based. It is a light watch in so many ways, but it opens up the gates to multiple possibilities. So here is a summary and ending of Primbon.
What happens when Rana comes back from the forest?
Rana went for a hike in the forest with her friend, Janu, and she never returned. Seven days after her disappearance, the family decides to hold a funeral for her, and they can’t decide which date to proclaim as the day of her death. Should it be when she disappeared or when the search was called off? In Rana’s family, her aunts call most of the shots, and they base their judgments on superstitions most of the time. According to them, Dini (Rana’s mother) was born on an inauspicious day, and she should not have married their brother (Banyu) because the union meant bad luck, as their dates of birth did not align. Their marriage is also blamed for the death of their mother, and Dini has spent her entire life under the shadow of these superstitions. Rana had disappeared on Dini’s birthday, and since the body has not been found, Dini refuses to believe that her daughter is dead. On the seventh day after her disappearance, Rana returns, and everyone believes that it is not her but some evil spirit that has occupied her body. People question why it took her seven days to come back and why she doesn’t seem to be the same as before. Dini is the only one who is standing by Rana, whereas everyone else is questioning her identity. Banyu wants Rana to be tested by a doctor. He says that it is to be prepared for what may come, but he doesn’t clarify what that could be. Meanwhile, people around Rana have reason to believe that she is an evil spirit.
Is Rana possessed?
One of the primary things about Rana ‘haunting’ people is that only those who suspect her seem to be affected. In the entire movie, not a single person is harmed, but people continue to call Rana dangerous. Tari (Rana’s sister) is initially scared and tries to peek under the bathroom door to see if Rana is indeed floating or not. She doesn’t see Rana’s feet, but that doesn’t mean anything since we don’t know whether that view covered the entire bathroom. At night, Tari expresses that she missed her sister, and a green hand comforts her, but when Tari looks back, her sister is on the other end of the room, sleeping. The hand did not belong to a living being, but it did not look malignant even once. It just seemed to comfort someone who needed it at the moment.
Next are the aunts, and their experiences are decidedly more scary. Aunt Ning places a plate full of petals under Rana’s bed, and when she starts braiding Rana’s hair at her request, she finds it rotting with maggots coming out. That night, one of the aunts is attacked by a spirit, and they are positive that Rana’s presence has brought them there. When a doctor inspects Rana, he finds maggots in her mouth, and he just leaves without saying anything. People all over town are speculating that Rana is not human, but when the doctor doesn’t say anything, it is natural to assume that they are wrong. However, Aunt Ning points out that Sri lost her child, Bagas, because they believed in science over the book of Primbon. Meanwhile, Janu is convinced that Rana is a spirit and that she is following him. Ning and Sri want to hold a cleansing ritual for Rana, but Dini is against it. Her sisters-in-law are cruel and say that her bad luck cannot be trusted and must be vetted by these rituals. As upset as Dini is, she has no choice but to agree.
Is Rana dead or alive?
Since Janu has been avoiding Tari, she confronts him about it, and he tells her that Rana has been following him. Tari understands that the person in her house may not be Rana. Janu tells her that only ten percent of the people lost in forests come back home, so perhaps Rana’s body is still in the forest. On the day of the ritual, Tari and Janu are in the forest. The priest tells them that it is an unverified story that the body will turn up during the ritual, but the kids insist on trying. During the ritual, the whole village is there to witness it, and they see Rana crying. She is in a hallucinatory state where she is in an empty house, and there are spirits all around her. In the place of the ritual, there are spirits, and each of them is trailing one particular person, whom they seem to briefly possess.
During Primbon‘s ending, Tari finds Rana, disfigured in the forest. She walks towards Tari and the moment she comes close to her sister, Rana collapses. Tari and Janu bring her dead body back to the village, and the book of Primbon turns out to be true all along. The movie doesn’t give an explanation as to what the purpose of the spirit was or any other stories about the book of Primbon. The only explanation that the audience is given is that it is based on numerology. The final scene showed a video recording by Rana, where she said that she had come to the forest to collect something for her mother since it was her birthday. She was assuring her mother that it wasn’t a cursed day like the relatives kept saying, and she should love herself and celebrate that day. Sri and Ning kept saying that Dini was inauspicious because she was born on a Saturday, and they found something wrong about Rana returning home on the day of Tahlil, which is when God is supposed to forgive the deceased’s sins and show them charity.
We cannot ignore the fact that Rana or any of the other spirits did not harm anyone when they came back from the forest. At best, their purpose seemed to be to scare others. The day before the cleansing ritual, Rana asks her aunts why they couldn’t believe Dini when she said that Rana was fine. It is interesting because Rana herself doesn’t say that she is alright or that she is not possessed. She is pointing out the aunts’ lack of faith in Dini. Also, Rana did not haunt Dini, Tari, or Banyu. Dini and Kari (until the end) never believed that she was possessed, just as Banyu did his best to stand by his daughter. His friend in the market told him that Rana may be behaving differently because everyone is treating her as a monster, and that could have affected her mind. Maybe Banyu wasn’t superstitious, but he did not have the ability to take a strong stand the way his wife or sisters did. However, he was well-meaning, and that seemed to be enough for Rana.
We did not receive an explanation regarding what happened in the forest when Rana went missing. Maybe Janu left her there, or maybe he did something, which is why she did not return? Janu had been scared of Rana since the moment she came back, even before she started haunting him. Was he superstitious, or did he know for sure that she was dead? On a different note, when Tari found Rana’s body, she was clothed, but when Rana had come back from the forest, she wasn’t wearing anything. One explanation is that spirits won’t wear clothes, but it could be indicative of what happened to her in the forest.
Another assumption is that it was only the spirit of Rana that had come back. Maybe the reason is that she loved her family, or maybe something else. Rana smiled every time people saw the maggots coming from her. That meant that she liked that fear and derived enjoyment from it. But only Ning and the doctor had viewed this spectacle. Maybe Rana just wanted to scare them or take revenge for how they treated her mother? Rana is also following Janu, but he is unharmed. Perhaps she is doing so because her death was because of him. Rana may be a spirit, but she doesn’t have any powers and can only follow and scare people. When it comes to the other spirits, perhaps one spirit can see another, which is why Rana is able to see them. Since they know that she can see them, they are following her. Additionally, they may have always been there, but people are feeling their presence now because they are expecting it and watching out for it because of Rana.
The above theories are based on the assumption that Rana indeed came back as a spirit. Another possibility is that nothing supernatural ever happened. Rana came back home, and she was unusually silent because of the trauma of being in the forest for so long. Her aunt spoke about maggots and a smell. Nobody else smelled anything bad around except her. The entire village was superstitious, not just Sri and Ning. Maybe it was a case of mass hallucination, in which Rana became a target. After all, spirits don’t have nosebleeds. Rana seemed surprised that she had one, and it was entirely real. A leaf-like thing came out of her nose, and that could be a remnant of the time spent in the forest rather than something supernatural. Maybe Ning and Sri had some health issues that they tried to pass off as an attack by spirits. As for Janu, maybe it was his guilt about leaving Rana behind that made him vulnerable to the mass hallucinations, and he thought he was being followed by her when she may have just been meaning to talk. Perhaps, during the ritual, Rana is unable to take the mental strain of it all, and she runs away to the forest, where she finally dies in the arms of her sister. After all, we did not see what happened between the ritual and Tari discovering her in the forest.
But one thing that can’t be denied is that a blind adherence to Primbon had a role to play in the story. If it was nothing supernatural, the superstitions cost the family dearly. If it were supernatural, we would blame the power of faith, which can cause disasters as much as miracles.
The story was meant to be open-ended and give rise to as many theories as possible. This discussion can go on for a much longer time, and for its sake alone, Primbon is a great watch.