Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Dir. Wong Kar-Wai

For all its cyclical and arc-like possibilities life has a sour tendency of being cut and divided into rations. Each are meant to be savored but inevitably they are gobbled down and compared quite frankly to previous portions and the hopes of future servings. Once consumed they are gone for good but this reality some how does not keep us from wishing against all odds that we might someday taste that same enriching fare. The memory of its consistencies, textures and flavors haunts us. At times even the thought that the true feast is right around the corner, the one that will make all others seem like mere nibblings and hors d'oeuvres, cannot keep us from wanting a former piece so badly that we turn instead to the dark and lonesome corners of starvation in the vain hope that the absence of nourishment might help us forget our very fundamental need of it. Segmentation has become an unnatural but nonetheless accepted part of life. Art, the painfully accurate reflection of life, has developed the capacity to emulate this tendency. In Wong Kar-wai's 2046 the theme of compartmentalization is adapted to a stunning and sometimes perplexing visual realization. Engaging in aspects of romance, high-drama, and science fiction the film weaves together a complex tapestry of love, regret, and memory. The end result is both stupefying and astoundingly gorgeous.

Based loosely on themes and plots from two previous films by Kar-wai (Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love), 2046 can be jarring without proper appropriation of certain material from the two aforementioned films. Still, the core of the film is not strictly reliant on this knowledge, but rather it assists in contextualizing the film. The story is based on a few years in a man's life, Chow Mo-wan (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), and his encounters with people, mostly women, during those times. Chow has recently loved and lost and throughout the film he finds pieces of his lost love in his new romances. However, he has refused to have his heart broken again and has thus built a towering, nearly impenetrable wall around himself to keep passion out and his insecurities in. In doing so he has unwittingly secured his inability to cope with his own devastation and move forward in his life. The film's plot line is highly reflective of this, with jumps in time that are confounding but revealing as Chow relives moments, seemingly without meaning to, that he has refused to completely release. To add to the greater sense of disorientation the film also encompasses a fictional, futuristic dream-world known as '2046', where “nothing ever changes”. These escapades are both an enigmatic and cryptic rendering of Chow's detachment from reality (scenes from '2046' exclusively feature the characters from the linear portion of the film in largely metaphoric roles) as well as the basis for a science fiction serial which he writes to make ends meet. The reconciliation of a contemptible reality and a subjugated fantasy and the ways in which both becomes modes of escapism for Chow is at the heart of the film's thesis. The concept is that we invent ways in which to avoid harshness in our own lives, but by doing so we are postponing and not eliminating, an action which can only serve to hurt us in the long run.

Despite being a largely complex and intimidating film, 2046 manages to be sensual and passionate as well. The film aches for a cathartic release of psychological and physical tensions between characters. Lust and fear burn and tremble across the screen and while Wong Kar-wai makes the film look exquisite (his tech-savvy and highly stylized film making is salient without being overly commercialized) it is his cast which makes the film vivid and unmistakable. In a film which so expertly captures the depressive disconnect between a man and his corporeality, the subtle tenderness as his former self breaks through his carefully maintained iron exterior is like the precious exhalation from dying body. More than the voice-over narration, it is the internal struggle Chow undergoes that brings the audience in sync with his world of suffering and disenchantment.

As much as we'd like to, the truth is that the harder we try to outstrip parts of our life, the stronger they attach themselves to our present situation. The more we try to forget a lover, the more often we find fragments of that person in our midst. The trying and the almost inevitable failure are a part of a larger continuum of change and how we, as individuals, cope with it. Suffice it to say that there is no easy solution but 2046 does pose some potential cures, or at least tranquilizers, for heartbreak. The film begins by telling how “no one ever came back from '2046', except one man”. '2046' is our artificial paradise: the place where we tweak the events of our lives towards absolute perfection and play them over and over again. What Wong Kar-wai proposes in this film is that this does not actually make us feel any better and that the only way to truly overcome our painful past is to accept the inconsistency of life and leave '2046', “the place where nothing changes”, and never come back.

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