This a follow-up to my 2046 post. I re-watched the movie and have had more time to process some things. This post may contain spoilers, so if you want some spoiler-free thoughts, checkout the original post.
I wish I could say that the movie made more sense the second time around. Or, wait, no I don’t. The second time around didn’t quite make the movie crystal clear, but it did make me love the movie even more. 2046 is one of those “onion”-type pieces of literature, where there are layers upon layers to peel away — and each time you peel away a layer things are a bit different.
The first time I watched the movie, I admit that the descriptions I read about the movie almost had me more confused than the movie itself. After reading reviews on Netflix and IMDB and whatnot (Netflix: “…Through time travel and parallel worlds…”), I went into it thinking the film was about time travel and alternate universes and what not — well, the movie is strange and has sci-fi elements, but not like that. What made the story confusing was the fact that — and this is my tentative working theory: the movie itself was a story that was mentioned in the movie.
The crux of my understanding comes from a scene early in the film (during whatever year there were major riots in Hong Kong). Chow mentions that he is furiously writing a story called “2046” that is about a place called 2046 that everyone wants to go to and that the story is filled with sex and has a sci-fi plot to it that some people didn’t like where everyone is trying to get to a mysterious place called 2046 — isn’t that pretty much exactly what the film is? As Chow is giving a brief summary of his story, we see futuristic scenes that appear to be depicting the story he describes.
While those could be one way of understanding “2046,” I think the film 2046 is also another way. The movie itself is pretty sexual (take, for instance, the sex scenes between Chow and Bai Ling) and has a strange sci-fi element (the story “2047” that Chow writes for Wang Jen Wen). Furthermore, throughout the film 2046 everyone is trying to get to a 2046 one way or another — either the physical room (e.g. Chow wanting to live in room 2046) or some place where nothing changes (e.g. a stable relationship). So basically what I’m saying is that the interior story of “2046” parallels the larger film of 2046 — the film is itself a metastory.
Anyway, that may be too circular and strange, which is okay. I always make things more confusing that need be, but that’s how I am.
Another thing I was struck by the second time watching was the story of “2047” (see a theme here? me and metastories/intertextualism?). The actress who plays Wang Jen Wen (Faye Wong, who incidentally, I just learned, sang the “love theme song” for Final Fantasy 8 [I knew her name was familiar for some reason]) is phenomenal playing an android. She totally had the jerky movements down and the distant stares that, I would imagine, an android might have. Plus, in the scenes in which Tak asks her to leave with him, when she is pretending to either not listen to not respond to having a delayed response, the “I’m not here”-look she has is great.
Although the movie seems to suggest that Chow’s “true love” was Su Lizhen from In the Mood For Love, I would argue that his best relationship was with Bai Ling. Not only did they seem to have great sex, but they also had a similar history of pushing people away (or so I would assume since she was a prostitute). Also, they seemed to genuinely have fun together. They were playful and joked with each other. I think those types of relationships are probably healthier and have more of a chance to last than those really intense, “I’m so in love with you I could die”-type of relationships (and I think I have some experience here…).
I can’t really tell whether the film (“the film” being, mostly, WKW himself) thinks Chow should go with Bai Ling or move on from Su Lizhen (#1) or give Su Lizhen (#2) a chance or tell Wang Jen Wen that he loves her or what. I want to try to look to “2047” for some help, but I’m still unclear as to what exactly that story is trying to tell us.
Ultimately, despite the fact I’ve tried to do a “close(r) reading” of the film, I think that my first understanding of the overall theme remains the same (and the quote is so lovely it’s worth repeating):
Love is all a matter of timing. It is no good meeting the right personâ€¦ too soon or too late.
For everything to align correctly so that two people are genuinely 100% in love with each other equally is extremely rare. One person loves the other more than the other (Bai Ling and Chow), one person loves another person but doesn’t know if the love is mutual (Tak and Wang Jen Wen), one person loves the other person at the wrong time (Wang Jen Wen and Tak), one person tries to love someone else who reminds them of someone they used to love (Chow and Su Lizhen #2)… or, who knows what other permutations can exist. I’m sure WKW can show us more.
And for the information-centric readers, here are some other things I’ve learned about the film since my first viewing:
- 2047 is 50 years after Great Britain returned rule of Hong Kong to China. There was something said by some Chinese leaders about how Hong Kong will remain unchanged (i.e. capitalist) for 50 years. Not sure what this has to do with the movie, but it’s interesting and may give some perspective on the dates 2046 and 2047
- The version of the film I watched (I’m guessing it’s some sort of “bootleg”) may be the “original cut” of the film that premiered at Cannes. After Cannes WKW decided to edit it a bit and add on five minutes in order to make the film less confusing.
- It looks like 2046 will be showing at the Seattle Film Festival this year. Although SIFF doesn’t have any information yet, I can’t wait to see 2046 on the big screen.
Where does all of this leave us? I actually plan on going full-on nerd with this film and watching it a couple more times in order to create a timeline or something so that the chronology (there are lots of flashbacks-within-flashbacks going on) is more clear. I think it would make the film more enjoyable and meaningful if I knew exactly what was going on.