Not many filmmakers create their own universe in which their characters can live and breathe in accordance with a wholly unique vision. Sometimes the best directors pull this off and revisit the world of their own creation throughout their oeuvre. Tsai Ming-Liang has synthesized such a world and though it runs parallel to our own there is a sense of impending change that permeates his. The characters drift through the ruins of a civilization that they clearly don’t belong to and try to make sense of the basic concepts of human connection through the sterile concrete landscapes and humming fluorescent lights of a bygone era. They have all of the outward traits of humans but one gets the impression that they are waiting for something. They are waiting for water, waiting in quiet desperation for human connection, waiting for the next phase in human evolution (or devolution). They make no attempts of expediting the inevitable transition nor do they fully comprehend what lies ahead but they wait in silent acceptance and unquantifiable understanding that it is on the way.
Tsai uses water in his films as the fundamental and pure life giving source as well as a representation of what humanity is waiting for. We all know that we need water to survive but it is so ubiquitous that we don’t necessarily reflect on its importance but Tsai has latched on to the concept of scarcity in resources as a reflection of the scarcity of meaningful human connection. Water is omnipresent and is one of the essential building blocks of life, but like human interaction it can just as easily possess destructive powers. It ebbs and flows through our landscapes, invades our home in torrents of violent and destructive rain, permeates our bodies and leaves in the form of various bodily fluids, and is of absolute importance. We may not realize its vital importance until it is gone but the bottle of water is an invaluable resource in times of drought just as a meaningful social connection is essential in times of loneliness.
The characters in Tsai’s films repress their outward signs of humanity until they are bursting at the seams with the stuff. The only outlet they have is through orgasmic flashes of song and dance numbers that are seemingly disconnected from the narrative flow of the films but perfectly capture the lightning in a bottle that lurks within all of us. The world that Tsai’s characters occupy is as drab and impersonal as our own but his characters live in their minds with rich colors and old Chinese pop songs that are poignant expressions of their hopes and desires.
The sexuality in the film is an illustration of how disconnected we have become from the essential components of living. It is lifeless, disconnected, subversive, and without feeling but moments of raw passion have a way of sneaking up on us and we have no choice but to discharge them in an uncontrollable and soul draining frenzy. The film doesn’t exploit some of the more subversive content for its own sake. It is a film about connection, longing, remembering, and the anticipation of the next phase in civilization and humanity. Maybe Tsai’s universe isn’t so different from our own. It could be that staring at the truths of our own world makes us feel slightly alienated as we assess the conditions of our own existence.
[notification type=”star”]94/100 - The characters drift through the ruins of a civilization that they clearly don’t belong to and try to make sense of the basic concepts of human connection through the sterile concrete landscapes and humming fluorescent lights of a bygone era. [/notification]