I've had this ice cream bar since I was a child.
A couple Fridays ago, I went to see Wong Kar Wai's film 2046 at the Detroit Film Theatre. I was quite simply overwhelmed by the film, which is easily one of the best I've seen this year. I've been meaning to say something about 2046 on this blog ever since I saw the film, but feeling at a loss for words I've repeatedly held off on doing so. Rather than allow this kind of inertia to prevent me from posting on 2046 at all, I figured I should post something while the movie is relatively fresh on my mind.
The plot of 2046 is fairly easy to summarize. Protagonist Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung) is a freelance journalist/pulp fiction writer living in a hotel in Hong Kong in the late-1960's. In episodic fashion, Chow recounts the story of his relationships with a number of women, including his landlord's two daughters (Faye Wong and Jie Dong), an old flame who has undergone a subtle but significant name change (Carina Lau), call-girl-next-door Bai Ling (the stunningly attractive Ziyi Zhang) and an enigmatic professional gambler known as "Black Spider" (Gong Li, who doesn't work as much as she used to). In between telling us about each of these women, Chow takes us inside a novel he is writing - a futuristic sci-fi tale called (you guessed it) 2046. This story-within-a-story deals with a man on a long subterranean rail journey to a mysterious and never-reached destination; aside from a human conductor, the man's only companions on the trip are several female androids - who happen to look just like the women with whom Chow is involved in real life. (In a strange and morbid way, the sci-fi scenes in 2046 reminded me of the classic Ren and Stimpy episode "Space Madness," from which I borrowed the title of this post.) Chow's recollections do not lead to a neat conclusion but unfold the way human lives often do - revealing patterns that promise a great degree of predictability without foreclosing the possibility of surprise, allowing viewers to discover that the 'turning points' in the story weren't what they initially expected.
Writer-director Wong treats each of the relationships at the heart of 2046 with great care. When he meets each woman, Chow finds himself in a different emotional space and with different needs. Each woman finds herself in a unique place as well, and consequently each relationship plays out differently - some remain thoroughly platonic, others subsist in the ambiguous territory of flirtation, and some are plainly erotic. And yet each of the relationships at the heart of 2046 share a certain lack of fulfillment. One or both parties finds that they aren't getting what they really want or need from the other person, and that the other person simply can't provide the missing element. In each case, too, there's a lack of communication, which Wong makes fairly explicit by having the characters speak to one another in different Chinese dialects - for example, Chow speaks to Bai Ling in Cantonese and she replies in Mandarin. Though I understand neither dialect, I think I could appreciate the intended effect: each person understands in a general way what the other is saying, but they miss crucial details.
As I wrote above, 2046 reveals the way lives can fall into particular patterns or cycles - cycles that often include elements of frustration and melancholy, as one repeatedly confronts situations one would like to avoid but can't seem to escape. Some of the film's most poignant sequences deal very effectively with this theme, showing that even though Chow manages to secure a date every Christmas Eve he still finds himself feeling very lonely. Chow ultimately makes an attempt to break this cycle, and while things don't turn out as he might like, they do turn out differently. And yet, somewhat like Ren and the ice cream bar of his delusion, Chow can't separate himself from his essential sense of melancholy.
2046 is a sad movie, but it never becomes depressing. With reverent tenderness it deals with the indispensable human feelings of compassion, loneliness, love and pain. 2046 is a film that rewards attentive and thoughtful viewing. 2046 is not for everyone, but if you've appreciated my reflections you might appreciate the film as much as I did. AMDG.