Last night I watched Wong Kar Wai’s film In The Mood For Love, and I’m going to be honest–I am forever changed. It’s the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen. It’s profoundly humbling that within my lifetime something so gorgeous and ambitious has been made. The plot of the movie is simple: a man and a woman move into rooms in adjacent apartments in Hong Kong; they are both married, but their spouses are often absent; they grow closer and closer.
Everything about this movie was perfect. What stands out most is the color palette: pale green is the color that predominates in almost every shot; then there’s often some red and yellow and occasionally blue. Even during the daytime, the colors are like nothing you’ve seen before. It’s painterly, as if every frame is an Edward Hopper painting. The movie is told with incredible economy: the main characters’ spouses never appear head-on. Events are clearly described, but only once: if you’re not paying attention you’ll miss, for instance, the slippers that the male protagonist gets for his room after the female protagonist spends the night there in her high heels and suffers from aching feet.
The music is haunting and captivating. All the conversations–even those about random stuff, like the conversations between Ms. Chan (the female protagonist) and her boss–are spot on, and only contain exactly as many exchanges as you need.
And of course Maggie Cheung is gorgeous: her dresses are perfect, her makeup is always on point, her hair is styled into a tall, voluminous 1960s haircut (the movie largely takes place in 1963), and her every gesture feels pregnant with meaning. The entire movie is just suffused with loneliness and with longing. And the ending is even more brilliant, showing how after a while we even become nostalgic for that pain. It’s a sad movie, but it also felt hopeful, humanistic.
It’s incredible that people in modern era are still able to make such ambitious films and to execute them so perfectly. I actually paused the movie twice and cleaned the apartment, took care of the dog, etc, because the pleasure I was experiencing was too much to bear.
That’s something I also noticed lately, while I was reading too books by transfem authors: Imogen Binnie’s Nevada and Alison Rumfitt’s Tell Me I’m Worthless. I was experiencing so much pleasure that it became frightening, and that I at times was tempted to put the books back and not go back to them, simply because I enjoyed them so much and was so deeply immersed in them. They dragged me out of myself, making me give up my own thoughts and cares–or making those thoughts and cares painful–and that kind of depersonalization was painful. I like being myself! I don’t love being a spectator to someone else’s vision. But it reminds me a bit of Schopenhauer–to be deeply engaged with a work of art means viewing it impersonally, from the standpoint of the universe itself–and it’s terribly frightening to leave the ego behind and let go of yourself, even though it’s something we all long for.
In some ways, the ceaseless drive for distraction–podcasts, Twitter, etc–are a search for escape, but it’s a safe, manageable escape. This form of escape is grounding, precisely because it still involves some residue of the self. It gives pleasure, but it doesn’t feel like an attack.
The most complete escape a person can have nowadays is to play video games. Here it is possible to lose oneself completely for any number of hours, and, moreover, because you’re in control of the action, you don’t feel like a spectator–instead you create a new self inside the game, a self with its own identity and its own cares, and a self which is carefully managed, by the game, so that its frictionless and meaningful.
Games are a powerful aesthetic experience. My years spent adventuring in the wastelands of various Fallout games form a cohesive experience–I have been in zombie-filled amusement parks and in deep underground bunkers and on the ruins of Boston skyscrapers. I carry those experiences with me forever.
But at the same time, games feel very sterile. Because what do those experiences mean? They recur at odd times, and all I feel is a longing to go back and replay the game–they don’t inform my view of the universe, they don’t expand my character, or even deepen my aesthetic appreciation. Games have the formal structure of art (they’re clearly an aesthetic experience) but not the content (an experience that sheds light on the human condition), just like track and field has the formal structure of hunting down a fleeing game-animal (the same running, jumping, throwing, etc), but not the content (if you win, you get to eat).
I just read Erik Hoel’s [reasoned explication on why AI might be an existential threat to humanity](https://open.substack.com/pub/erikhoel/p/how-to-navigate-the-ai-apocalypse?r=hjhja&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=email. I’m not convinced it will be, but I’m definitely convinced we should shut down AI research on the off chance that it might become a threat. Read the article and see if you agree.
Also enjoyed Rachel Connolly’s article on life’s losers. I’m also struck by the number of upper-middle-class people who just…don’t seem to have any values? Like…why are they living? What do they want? What do they care about? This comes through whenever professors claim to be afraid of being canceled. People claim to idolize, say, Socrates, who faced death for his opinions, but they’re afraid of stating their real opinions about, say, books, because they’re afraid of people getting mad at them on the internet. If you truly think your opinions are valuable, then you ought to state them precisely because they are unpopular. People want to be rewarded for saying and doing the ‘right’ things, without bearing any risk. I don’t think people should be fired for their opinions, but I also think everyone ought to have a few opinions that they’re willing to be fired for.
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