“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (2018) by Chinese director Bi Gan vividly depicts subconsciousness and dreams by building a surreal atmosphere and using beautiful and unique cinematography.
The story revolves around a man named Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) returning to his hometown Guizhou and trying to regain what has been lost in his deep memories. He comes across a mysterious woman called Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei), who triggers his hauntingly subconscious emotions, and leads him (as well as the audience) into a surreal dreamland.
The film does not put much focus on linearizing and clarifying the storyline, but on creating and developing the reverie-like atmosphere. The characters’ facial expressions are unfathomable; their conversations are sometimes unrelated contextually; some characters who earn a long-take close-up do not even have a name in the story. Yet the atmosphere is successfully established — Luo would walk into a leaking room within the architectural ruins, holding a broken watch, and contemplating on his past. Scenes like this show his confrontation with the subconscious in an indirect way. Broadly speaking, the leaking room and the broken watch indicate how a person’s mental world can be ruined by time-passing; yet in the context of the film, it details how the regret and frustration of Luo’s mysterious past finally confronts Luo to face most of his suppressed emotions.
The last 60 minutes of the film unusually invite the audience to put on 3D glasses together with the protagonist, not to see any special effects or CGI that would greatly excite people, but to enter Luo’s fantasy-like dream and truly experience the situation. With 3D glasses on, the audience dreams with Luo as he confronts his younger self in a cave, then travels to a small town by the mountain, where he meets a lover from his past, and a person who resembles his mother. The camera, while following Luo’s slow walks around the town, forms a set of maze-like movement that leads us into his deepest emotions; at the same time, the camera also builds up a dreamy atmosphere. 3D effects make the surreal dream more realistic in a visual way. Therefore, we are led into a man’s deep subconscious, and for the last 60 minutes, we see an epic use of one single take without any cutting, which makes the dream more complete.
In order to create a wonderful visual experience, Bi Gan puts the emphasis on artistic cinematography, setting, and color use. We see lots of scenes that pay homage to famous directors like Wong Kar-Wai and Andrei Tarkovsky, which further confirms Bi Gan’s preferred film style. The broken watch and its symbol of time is a commonly-seen signifier in Wong Kar-Wai’s films, who tries to express the intangibility of time itself. On the other hand, one scene in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” directly puts focus on a glass of water, which magically slides to the edge of the table by itself and inevitably falls down. Such surreal scene exactly corresponds to the one with the same content in Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (1979), which also builds up a poetic experience involving water, subconsciousness, and dreams.
“Long Day’s Journey Into Night” is far from being audience-friendly, and Bi Gan does not try to explain every single detail, which requires lots of effort from the audience to understand the work. The film is highly scattered, vague and complicated. Yet the visual experience that Bi Gan has created is nothing but a pure artistic journey that throws us into a stranger’s fantasy. After all, film is a form of art that creates and reverts our dreams.
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