Tulisan Roy Voragen tentang 2046

2046 – Wong Kar-wai

Roy Voragen – Garasi 10 – 8 March 2013

2046 is a 2004 movie by Hong Kong-based director Wong Kar-wai (1958), which was four years in the making. Wong Kar-wai directed, among others, Happy Together, In The Mood For Love, and My Blueberry Nights. And together with Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni, he made one part of Eros.

Yearning for lost love seems to be one his central themes in his movies; a theme he has in common with novelists Orhan Pamuk (especially The Museum of Innocence) and Marcel Proust (In Search For Lost Time). A yearning for lost love is symptomised by a changed sense of time, memory and narrative, and, at the very same time, desperate attempts to make again sense of it all, which is destined to fail in the end.

Orhan Pamuk’s book The Museum of Innocence starts with these words – words of regret, of hindsight – “It was the happiest moment of my life, though I didn’t know it. Had I known, had I cherished this gift, would everything have turned out differently? Yes, if I had recognized this instant of perfect happiness, I would have held it fast and never let it slip away.” Some seventy pages later in the story – sadder and wiser – he says: “In fact no one recognizes the happiest moment of their lives as they are living it. It may well be that, in a moment of joy, one might sincerely believe that that they are living that golden instant ‘now’, even having lived such a moment before, but whatever they say, in one part of their hearts they still believe in the certainty of a happier moment to come.”

Both Kemal in The Museum of Innocence and Chow in 2046 deal with lost love and they are the narrators of these stories. The first person account in the novel by Orhan Pamuk and the movie by Wong Kar-wai matter, if the book and the movie would have been narrated from a third person perspective – an outsider perspective – questions of justification of their behavior would have to be addressed. The novel is pretty straightforward compared to the non-linear movie. Since Quentin Tarantino’s success with Pulp Fiction we have come to be accustomed to non-linear movies. In the case of Pulp Fiction this is a playful device but alluding to nothing when it comes to character development or the character’s state of mind or heart. In 2046, on the other hand, this is a necessary device to show the confusion, sorrow and pain that come with regret of the main character, who seems forever trapped in search for a lost time.

2046 refers to hotel room numbers: in Hong Kong (2046) and in Singapore (In The Mood for Love, a 2000 movie, which can be considered a prequel to 2046). And it also refers to the science fiction element of the film: a train speeds towards the year 2046 – a destination not in space but in time. And both hotels and a train signify – in normal times, at least – transit and short stay. Moreover, it refers to 49 years after the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 when it was agreed that Hong Kong would be an autonomous region for fifty years.

The train travels to a future date to recapture lost memories (or memories of loss). We cannot re-visit the past – and rewrite it – so we need to imagine it. “The essence of the film is people’s emotional reaction to change as it takes effect over time, a delayed reaction that hits as change becomes apparent.”[1] For Chow, "Love is all a matter of timing.” And Bai Ling asks in response: “Why can't it be like before?”

Chow is left scarred by the past and he armors himself in fatalism to deal with the present. For example this dialogue:

Bai Ling: I don’t understand why you carry on so with women. If you meet one good woman, isn’t she enough? Why delay time?
Chow Mo-wan: A man like me has nothing but time. I need to find people to meet my needs.
Bai: You treat people like time-fillers?
Chow: Not really. Sometimes, I lend my time to others.
Bai: What about tonight? Are you borrowing my time or am I borrowing yours?

But it is a cynical fatalism and not a fatalism of accepting fate – including its more brute nature – to make it one’s own.[2] This cynicism is clear in Chow’s relationship with women, his past experience has hardened him and he doesn’t open up to new possibilities (except on Christmas eve). However, this cynical fatalism doesn’t mean he doesn’t change at all: “Wong is showing in Chow how our actions and behaviour change and alter from one relationship to another; Chow's character is not fixed, but shifts in relation to the partner and the story.”[3]

“All memories are traces of fears,” is the title of one subsection, but isn’t that also because we idealize love? But, perhaps, this is a question from a third person perspective – can we ever really understand someone’s love for another person? Doesn’t this movie invite us to re-visit our own imagined past to ponder if – and if so, what and how – we would want it different? And the more we start to wonder about this, the less sense it makes to our mind because we are ultimately addressing questions of the heart here. Wong Kar-wai not only does so by showing Chow’s story through non-linear means, but also by using a moving and repetitive music score and through a cinematography that uses a nostalgic, expressionistic color palate.

Roy Voragen studied philosophy and political science at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and he resides in Indonesia since 2003. He is a Bandung-based art writer and curator. In 2011, he founded Roma Arts, which organizes exhibitions, workshops, artist talks, seminars and an artist-in-residency (with a focus on Southeast Asian artists). He can be contacted at http://fatumbrutum.blogspot.com and a selection of his writings: http://issuu.com/royvoragen

[1] Stephen Tao, “2046: A matter of time, A matter of love,” <http://sensesofcinema.com/2005/35/2046/>.
[2] As in Friedrich Nietzsche: “Amor Fati, Fatum Brutum.” I wrote two catalogue text on this; the Amor Fati exhibition at Selasar Sunaryo Art Space (<http://issuu.com/royvoragen/docs/amor_fati_catalog_-_with_an_essay_by_roy_voragen?mode=window&viewMode=singlePage>) and the Ecce Homo exhibition at Gallery Semarang (<http://issuu.com/royvoragen/docs/ecce_homo_exhibition_at_galeri_semarang_with_an_es?mode=window&viewMode=singlePage>).
[3] Ian Johnston, “Unhappy Together: Wong Kar-wai’s 2046,” <http://brightlightsfilm.com/47/2046.php>.
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