Plane Fare

May 26, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

I think this is May 26th. After spending 26 hours on planes and sitting in airports, and crossing the International Date Line going in the wrong (or is that right) direction, it's tough to be sure. So I'm writing this at about 8:00 at night which would make it 8:00 am EDT. Or something like that. Sleep deprivation will undoubtedly make this one of the strangest columns I have ever written. But stay with me...

I'm not a big proponent of watching films on planes. For the most part, they tend to be edited versions of mediocre Hollywood clap-trap. I discovered, however, that Singapore Air not only offers dozens of titles, but none of them are sliced and diced to appeal to least-common-denominator audiences. Imagine - a movie on an airplane where you can actually see a woman's breast (if you are so inclined)! Seriously, kudos to Singapore Air for doing this, and here's hoping that more airlines adopt this policy.

I have to admit that most of the blockbusters on offer didn't interest me, but some of the lesser profile movies did. One in particular has been on my to-see list for a while, and I was beginning to wonder if/when it is going to get a U.S. release. Odd that my initial exposure to it ended up being on a plane. I am not going to review the film based on a single viewing in such unfavorable circumstances. To do so would be unfair. However, there's no reason not to detail a few first impressions. The movie in question is Wong Kar-Wai's 2046.

It's a beautiful motion picture that deals with the loves and almost-loves in the lives of one man working as a writer in Hong Kong during the 1960s. The plot is developed in mobius strip-fashion, bending back on itself and connecting beginning to (near) end. 2046 has a lot to say about the nature of love, how we as a species view love, and the kind of power that unrequited love can lend to the object of another's affections. At times, it's easy to view the narrator protagonist in a negative light, but he is pursuasive enough to bring us around to his viewpoint.

I have seen the film referred to as a "science fiction movie" because Wong obliquely refers to 2046 as being a future year that can be visited via a "train," possibly something that travels through time. This is really a red herring, however. It occupies only a small portion of the film, and is clearly described as being a portion of a story within the story. So don't expect anything futuristic or trippy. Visually, stylistically, and thematically, 2046 has a lot more in common with In the Mood for Love (Wong's previous feature) than anything that today's audiences would identify with as "science fiction."

2046 was the only film I saw in its entirety on the Newark-to-Manila trip. I caught bits and pieces of other movies, but none held my attention for more than a few minutes. Eventually, this became a sort of channel surfing to ward off boredom. Then it was back to reading and fitful dozing. When I landed in Manila, it seemed not like the end of an epic journey, but the culmination of a long period of pointless inactivity.

So what do I think of it here? It's hot and humid, but no more unpleasant than New Jersey on a typical July afternoon. The city has more of a Western feel than an Eastern one. And there is no way I would ever consent to driving a car here. Getting behind a wheel is like taking part in a video game designed to test both visual acuity and reaction time. On at least half-a-dozen occasions, I was sure there was going to be an accident, but, as I quickly learned, "almost" is a meaningless qualifier. I think the next time I ride in a car, I'll do it with my eyes closed.