Who else has seen Bi Gan's Long Day's Journey Into Night
? I remember seeing posts about it several months ago, but god knows where they are in this thread.
I'm honestly not sure how to feel about the film. It's an astonishing achievement - that much is clear - but at times it feels like a big budget remake of his first feature, Kaili Blues
. Their structure is nearly identical: a mosaic of fragmentary poetics that resolves into a unified continuum of memory and space. But Bi Gan demonstrates one of the most accomplished and intelligent uses of single take cinematography I've ever seen, weaving all the disparate thematic threads he builds during the first half of the film into one dream-like tapestry of overlapping identities and time periods. Kaili Blues
came at this structure a little more haphazardly, and a large share of its charm falls within those rough edges; Long Day's Journey Into Night
risks being too sleek, but some part of me can't help but feel like that's the point.
One of the qualities that initially bothered me about Long Day's Journey Into Night
is how transparently it wears its influences. Kaili Blues
was clearly indebted to filmmakers like Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hou Hsiao-hsien, but it integrated their influence pretty seamlessly. That influence carries over into his second feature which, as many critics have noted, is also saturated with the influence of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky, and film noir in general. I didn't notice other critics mention this, but his long-take manipulation of time within space reminds me of Angelopolous and Jancsó (although he isn't as explicitly political as those filmmakers).
But the most pronounced influence (particularly apparent in the first half) is Wong Kar-Wai: the use of voice-over, the poetic perception of time, romantic and nostalgic yearning, even clothing as signifier of memory and feeling. The most common criticism I came across, which resonated with me, is that Bi Gan's film has so little of the emotional richness that suffuses Wong Kar-Wai's oeuvre. It's aping his tropes, but only captures the glossy surfaces.
But as I've sat with the film in my mind, I began to wonder if that was partly the point. I thought of a quote from Proust: “Sometimes passing in front of the hotel he remembered the rainy days when he used to bring his nursemaid that far, on a pilgrimage. But he remembered them without the melancholy that he then thought he would surely someday savor on feeling that he no longer loved her. For this melancholy, projected in anticipation prior to the indifference that lay ahead, came from his love. And this love existed no more.”
I'm not sure Bi Gan quite taps into that sensibility, but it got me thinking about various aspects of the film. For one, how explicit his influences and homages are. From the beginning of the film, Bi Gan cues us into the parallel phenomena of memories, dreams, and movies, and how they are governed by similar rules. Looking through this lens, the fragmented memories of the first half - their veracity explicitly questioned in voice-over - are deeply colored by noirs, especially those by Hitchcock and Lynch. There are blatant homages throughout to Blue Velvet
, and Ivan's Childhood
, and more oblique homages to Hitchcock (shots of characters ascending stairwells) and others.
What begins to emerge is something incredibly nuanced: a man who reflects upon his past, whose memories muddle with his dreams and take on the color of films he's seen. The first half is a fractured detective story of a man tracking down a woman he once loved, interspersed with memories from that time of his life. But those memories are vague and sometimes surreal, charged with symbolic weight, like the green dress his lover always wears.
The shift from mosaic to long take happens when the character drifts off in a movie theater, and it's demarcated by the title screen (finally) and a shift to 3D (which I didn't get to experience, but would love to). In this sequence, when the man is on the verge of finding the woman he's sought, the intersecting phenomena of movies, dreams, and memories fuse into one seamless whole where they all comfortably coexist. It is riddled with rhymes of motifs and symbols that appear, sometimes offhandedly, in the first half: pomelos, apples, ping pong, dyed red hair, torches and honeycombs, karaoke songs, etc. As in Kaili Blues
, the identities of characters become fluid and ambiguous, like a woman reminiscent of the woman he was looking for, and a child who might be the child that woman aborted or who might be his dead friend Wildcat.
In this context, the obvious homages take on real texture and significance, because it's a demonstration of how the experience of watching movies can inflect and distort our memory of actual lived experience. His memory of Wildcat trying to sell rotten apples collides with an homage to Tarkovsky. The doubling effect of Vertigo
reflects his own conflicted and splintered feelings about the woman he's tried to track down. This whole sequence, which is carefully framed and constructed to resemble both a dream and a film, reconciles all these impulses and creates a space of unreality (or heightened reality) where time and circumstance defy logic and even physics to create a world where his unresolved feelings and uncertainties can find some sense of closure and continuity. And like Kaili Blues
, it concludes with a subtle and sublime moment where time is subverted to magically restore the emotional possibilities a character thought they had lost long ago.
If anyone else has thoughts, or can dredge up a previous post, I'd love to hear them. (In the process of writing this post, I think I convinced myself to love this film.)
Some further reading:
Nick Pinkerton eloquently expresses some of the doubts that I had at Reverse Shot
, while Dennis Lim captures just as well what I most admire about the film at Film Comment