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“2046” – Love Is Timeless

Christian Hu


May 24, 2023

Love Is Timeless

After 5 years of countless interruptions, delays, numerous cast changes and growing rumours, Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 was finally completed as a sequel to In the mood for love — his magnum opus. The film presents itself as another variation on his obsession with time, a theme that feeds well into another core aspect of his films — memories. Furthermore, the film revolves around the interactions between Chow Mo Wan and four different women who occupy room 2046. We follow a clearly broken Chow who is a shell of his former romantic self; he is emotionally empty and writes sketchy erotic novels whilst still being obsessed with the room number ‘2046’

Snippets and scenes of a dystopian, science fiction film appear as excerpts of a novel that the main character Chow is writing. The futuristic looking CGI cityscapes undeniably gives the film a sense of otherworldliness as it is weaved in between a fractured timeline. Even with the use of four different languages in the film, there never exists confusion in emotions or communication among the characters. The futuristic setting of the novel diverges away from his experience in writing martial arts novels, it could be argued he’s trying to move on from the unrequited love and loneliness from his unfulfilled desires for Su li-zhen. At the same time, his severe attachment towards 2046 makes him revisit his past desires and core memories involved with her.

Chow is clearly still haunted by his liason with the ‘old’ Su, his many flings and sexual encounters with equally broken people are all conducted in the shadow of his old affair. With the narrative mainly driven through Chow’s monologues, he subjects us viewers to an episodic manner of storytelling in a discontinuous timeline, like fragments of a memory. We the audience see his regression from a well-mannered person to an erotic novelist playboy who sleeps around. Even if it is the same person, they are both different. Yet they are tied together by their loss of Su and their attachment to 2046. We follow him through all his reactions and how it affects him as a human being. The progression of time has hardened Chow’s emotions, the more time extends the longer delay we experience in Chow’s own emotions. His delayed reaction to others reflects and extends to the way in which Chow reacts to his own failed affair with Su. His deep feelings for Su had never faded, it has stood strong against the river of time, unyielding, unchanging, and unwavering.

The theory of eroticism and romantic desire in the absence or denial of sex is repeatedly explored in both In the mood for love and 2046. Much like his interactions with Su and Bai, desire is better felt than satisfied. Without instant gratification or fulfilment, that sensuous feeling lasts longer. Time will always slowly erode the aches and discomforts of love, yet memory renders and resurrects those emotions in a much denser and purer form.

From the class reading Love and anthropology, Chow’s love for Su could be readily summarised in this phrase; love provides ‘ a kind of secular salvation…. That could redeem their entire existence, even though they might die of it’. Chow had found himself within Su, once the affair is extinguished and the connection is lost, Chow ‘regresses.’ The regression that chow experiences is associated with the ‘ladder of love’ in Plato’s symposium.

The ladder of love reflects the ascent a lover makes from the lowest rung of superficial and physical beauty to appreciation for everything that is beautiful, the very essence of beauty that transcends time. The ascension can be viewed as a sublimation of one’s impulse into another, usually towards something that is ‘higher’ or more valuable. The superficial and sexual desire for a beautiful body transcends and becomes sublimated into a desire for philosophical understanding and insight. In the highest rung, Plato claims that it is ‘an everlasting loveliness which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades.’

Freud’s readings point towards how adults express their range of sexual fantasies as symptoms of emotional disorders, as elements of dreams, in the making of art and in overtly sexual acts. When Chow was with Su, they never slept together in bed, yet they still fall deeply in love for each other. The restriction of consummating their love causes Chow to inhibit his sexual desires for her. In essence, the former chow had transcended through his shared artistic creativity and emotional connection with Su. Their collective conscious and love for each other gives birth to their ‘child’, a martial arts novel — physical proof of their everlasting love.

Wong is not afraid to fragment the narrative to illuminate and emphasise the joys and sorrows of romantic desire and human experience of falling in love. The discontinued timeline in both 2046 and its prequel enhance and reinforce the idea of how love can transcend both time and space. When love ascends, the apprehension of beauty comes in a kind of vision or revelation, not through words nor through the ways that ordinary knowledge could explain.

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