A Brighter Summer Day

A Brighter Summer Day ★★★★★

“Are you sorry we drifted apart? Does your memory stray… to a brighter summer day?”

The perilous search for identity in an ever-changing world seems to define the adolescent experience. Yet coupled with this ephemeral sense of youth is indescribable moments that linger in one’s mind for years. For me this was the rusted goal post, missing its net, quietly wobbling in the wind as I played soccer with friends.  The impressions on my forehead I’d get from constantly falling asleep on the 6 am bus ride to school. My dad’s headlights piercing through my blinds at 7 pm, signaling his late arrival from work. These brief, seemingly non-essential moments are what make us human, and form our memories not around crucial stages in our lives, but rather experiences that take us back to simpler times.

A Brighter Summer Day capitalizes on this concept in perhaps the most beautiful, profound, and touching way possible. To me, it’s the silhouettes dancing on a rustic door, the steam of a pot slowing rising behind the stoic look of a broken man, the flashing light illuminating a picture hastily hung, the severity and finality of a hanging bulb swaying from the ceiling. These moments are what embody a childhood, and these instances of visual poetry are what A Brighter Summer Day utilizes so proficiently, expertly crafting a deep sense of unfamiliar nostalgia, a foreign sense of empathy. 

It seems like only Yang can muster the precise patience to depict the tranquil and the brutal in the same breath. As I said before, A Brighter Summer Day is very much about identity, and usually discovering who you truly are is a transformative process unlike anything else. Determining who you are means existing without compromise. Edward Yang explores this idea as thoroughly as anyone can. The central questions Yang appears to be asking is: how does our purpose and self come to fruition? And will this process forever be beholden to external factors such as maternal and paternal influences, outward expectations, pop culture, and pressure from peers?

This is why A Brighter Summer Day is perhaps the greatest visual manifestation of the lifelong debate between nature vs. nurture. Yet I’d argue Yang doesn’t necessarily pick a side, because this concept is a false dichotomy, much like Yang’s other central focus for the film: War and Peace (or the paradox of idealism and justice).

I could go on and on but this film is incredible, within its four-hour runtime it accomplishes so much, truly one of the best films I’ve seen.


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