2046 ★★★★★

When [Alexander] Nemerov taught an art-history survey class at Yale a dozen years ago, he made the decision, he tells us, to teach art as art, rather than as encoded political cartooning or as social history in pictures. “I abandoned my expertise,” he writes. “I let go of the skepticism I hid behind as a younger man. I left no scrim or safety net between me and the students, between me and the art, between me on the stage and the person I was alone. I began speaking—I don’t know how else to say it—as a person moved.” (Adam Gopnik, “Helen Frankenthaler and the Messy Art of Life,” The New Yorker, April 5, 2021)

My interest in revisiting 2046 came from fellow Letterboxd-er David Ehrlich’s recent five-star rave review, and then receiving Wong’s new Blu-Ray box set as a birthday gift. I remember liking the film upon its initial release, but only the main musical theme had stuck with me since.

Then, right before my first rewatch, I happened to read the above passage about a new biography of the painter Helen Frankenthaler. I’m guessing it planted a seed in my subconscious to absorb 2046 more through emotion than narrative logic. With that approach, I’ve watched 2046 twice in the last week and have come around to Mr. Ehrlich’s sentiment. The film is a confounding hall of mirrors, a culmination of everything Wong had done up to this point, incredibly moving, and, yes, incredibly good. But you have to feel it to get there.

Wong’s style has always been an intoxicating (if not overpowering) brew and 2046 doesn’t buck this trend. In earlier Wong films, though, this lushness amplified visceral moments, of the moment. 2046 is distinct in that his hand is alternately amplifying and distorting memory instead. Wong bottles his own form of “mental time,” embedded in the mind of the haunted writer-protagonist Chow and his equally haunted sci-fi story that prods and pokes 2046’s main narrative. I can’t think of another film that visualizes the gauzy, nonlinear sense of buried, melancholy-filled memory as wonderfully as 2046 does. The strands never fully come together and that’s the point.

To be fair, my own romanticized memories—of seeing the film 17 years prior, of earlier Wong films (especially 2046’s direct antecedent In the Mood for Love), of my own bygone experiences of love and loss—inform my enthusiasm here. Would someone without my life and filmgoing history with Wong find 2046 as beguiling? It’s impossible for me to know and, frankly, I really don’t care either way.

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