I don't want to sleep alone

A certain pattern is now clear in Tsai Ming Liang's films. A dystopian view of the city. Empty houses, apartments - even the half-built carcass of an entire complex whose basement is filled up like a lake. Water sustaining and connecting us but also carrying our diseases, our fears and our thirsts/desires. Food and drink - never an elaborate meal, not an occasion for social interaction and togetherness - but always consumed on the sly, alone, whether perfunctorily or hungrily. The little absurd and comic things we do when we are alone to fill up the silences and spaces, or just to get by - to breathe amidst the haze, to sleep amidst the ruins. And of course, sex - always the desperate seeking of strange bodies - alien to us but familiar in our alone-ness. Against all this, there is music, always nostalgic and perfect in its sentimentalism, a romance, the sweetest of escapes.

With his latest film I Don't Want to Sleep Alone, I think Tsai has distilled all these elements into their barest, simplest and their most comic, absurd, tragic and beautiful variations.

But if there is something that is missing from Tsai's films, it is death.

It was Good Friday the morning after we watched Tsai's film, so J and I were reminded of death - Christ's and all of ours,eventually - if not for the hopeful promise of Easter and Christ's resurrection.

This weekend was coincidentally also the Chinese Qing Ming weekend, a time to visit and clean up graves of ancestors. Visiting the dead (or rather, their graves) is something that the living do. This year Ma J, alive but so weak and distraught she cannot even bring herself to sit up, is not allowed to go with Pa J to visit the graves of Pa J's parents. J tells me this evening that when he looks into Ma J's eyes, he is drawn inside her hopelessness and absolute loneliness, a living death.


Anonymous said…
You're right that death is missing from Tsai's movies. There is mostly dying and ghosts. However the more I think of it the less surprising that is because he is after all a classical filmmaker, what with his his omniscient camera and prizing of image/composition/blocking above dialogue. And it seems to make sense that someone working in such a mode might consider the most essential aspect of filmmaking its attempt to immortalise. Though immortalise goodness knows what, is the question.

Wishing for strength for you and your family during this time of illness.
ampulets said…
hmm, that works. i sometimes find his films very sentimental, and whatever it is he immortalises is just that - that dreamy sentimentality.

thanks, it's mostly J's father who has to deal with his wife's changed state.
tscd said…
Is she showing any signs of improvement at all? Or is she too fed up?
ampulets said…
tcsd - yup, she's not better and she's fed up.so she swears in hokkien, tells folks to go away and is generally rebellious. yah, fed up is the right description. the 1 thing she is open to is watching DVDs of old movies with J and I. We've been through JiangShanMeiRen and a really hilarious Shaw Brothers musical version of Dream of the Red Chamber.
tscd said…
ampulets: DVDs is a good start, cos it means she's taking an interest in something - or maybe she finds that it isn't too strenuous being in your company. I heard Korean drama serials are very big in Singapore nowadays.

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