Bafflingly amazes. An oxymoron I suppose, and a difficult feat to accomplish in the cinematic sense, but what does that even mean? How can something be baffling and amazing at the same time? I pair these two because Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a film which manages to confuse and disorient the audience on multiple levels, and somehow after viewing, still manages to stun and amaze. From its unconventional construction to its technical selling points, Journey Into Night has so much to talk about, especially with regards film’s dialog with the audience. The layered confusion of it all makes it difficult to pick a singular starting point for this review, and I can’t even say I understood it all — perhaps intentional or maybe a sign of own inability —, but I cannot deny how enthralling it is.
On a distilled narrative level, the film is about a man (Huang Jue) trying to recall a woman (Tang Wei) who he hasn’t been able to forget. From there you are taken on a journey into a dreamlike state that is as disorienting as it beautiful. Pulling from influences like Wong Kar-Wai, the film throws you into an almost deliberately confusing narrative that speaks to memory and truth, and the lines that are drawn between them. One stand out line of dialog that directly addresses this notion is the difference between cinema and memory; that cinema always presents a fiction while memory walks between deception and truth. This very notion takes on a greater significance especially when considering how Bi uses the medium itself to present different truths in his own narrative. Are we looking at a reliable recollection from our protagonist or are we looking at a fallible memory? We may not know.
This would also be a great time to mention the first half of this film is in 2D and the latter half is in 3D featuring a giant 59 minute one take. I feel truly sorry for people who can’t see this in 3D, because the dual format is pretty much essential to the narrative’s dreamlike effect. Half way through the film, our protagonist puts on the 3D glasses and the film’s title card appears for the first time. Whether you are transported into a film or a dream is not clear, but the pairing of the long take and format change makes for a captivating selling point that has a purpose — a technical feat that leverages the medium to feed into the overall disorientation and immersion. As of writing this, the film has already left SIFF, and I don’t know how Journey Into Night will live on at home without the 3D, but make no mistake, it is essential to one’s viewing.
The overall feel of the film is somewhat of an anomaly. I can’t place my finger on the exact minutia of the film beyond its treatment of memory, but when you’re barreling through this seedy world, you don’t seem to care. More of a feeling rather than a holistic understanding, A Long Day’s Journey Into Night presents a bafflingly assembly of its material, but one that generates something intriguing. Something you may not fully understand initially, but what you come to feel long after, and that feeling is unforgettable.