“The difference between film and memory, is that films are always false. They are composed of a series of scenes. But memories mix truth and lies, they appear and vanish before our eyes.”
Spoken early on in the gorgeous, visually opulent, Chinese neon noir film Long Day’s Journey Into Night, it’s a line that telegraphs and reveals what’s to come, what we’re to experience over the course of the lush, languid two-hour drama.
Actually, it’s revealing only in as much as anything really can be and truly is in a story that stirs those memories and untruths together and serves them up in a dreamlike, time-hopping manner with an almost mid-period Lynchian sensibility — in pacing, tone and texture.
Director Bi Gan’s story of a man (Luo Hongwu, played by Huang Jue) returning to his hometown to find the femme fatale (Tang Wei) who stole his heart 20 years earlier, walks a line between true narrative and a fractured exploration of what reality is and what some of us choose it to be.
Along the way, Gan drops recurring thematic clues to his possible intent: visibly by way of broken clocks and watches, fire and water, biblical imagery of apples and snakes, even the recurring act of performing karaoke; and with dialogue such as, “Everything about you is a mystery,” “She was a master storyteller. I didn’t know what was real, what was false,” and the exchange, “Do we know when we’re dreaming?” “Maybe. The TV said dreams are lost memories.”
And he takes his time doing so, with long, lingering shots, lengthy moments of silence, but ones that show so much, speak so much.
In fact, there’s a two-plus-minute, wordless apple-eating scene that is one of the most emotive and emotionally packed visuals you will ever see onscreen — it seems like an hour, with all of the myriad subtext taking place in the eyes and the simple act of chewing.
Of course, that scene isn’t the one that it’s known for. That would be the remarkable 55-minute, 3-D, single-take sequence, which, not surprisingly, begins as Jue falls asleep in a movie theatre, and takes us to the end.
It, like the movie in its entirety, is a stunning piece of filmmaking, unfolding at its own leisure, to serve its own purpose, to make its own statement.
What that statement is?
Well, like reality, we think we know, but who can really say for certain.
Best we just enjoy the journey.
Long Day’s Journey Into Night screens Friday, Sept 21 at 8:05 p.m. at Eau Claire 3, and Saturday, Sept. 29 at 4 p.m. at Eau Claire 3. For tickets please go to calgaryfilm.com.