Watching Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together (1997) again during the spring break made me realize how the over arching elements of both the film and the spring time are similar. Ideally, spring is associated with the blossoming of flowers, and is full of exuberance and life. Similarly, the film is a tale of youths in love, and is full of passion and fervor. Characteristics of both the film and spring are also inevitable: the fleeting nature of the season and youth, and the ephemerality of life and love.
The air of melancholia that envelope the protagonists, the desolate look of longing in their eyes, the hopelessness of their yearnings, and the ephemeral beauty of love are what I bathe in when I watch a Wong Kar-wai film. The blogger of The Film Sufi theorizes how “we remember not so much the events, but the mood” after having watched a Wong Kar-wai film, and “the mood” in my opinion is established by “the missed opportunities, lost connections, and the utter hopelessness of the depicted romantic longings.”
Happy Together is poetry in motion and it so beautifully establishes that mood. It is a poem about love, heartbreaks and longings or in short about suadade, a Portuguese word describing “a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves,” with the repressed knowledge that someone or something may never return.
In Happy Together, Wong Kar-wai takes us on a journey of two lovers, Lai Yui-fai and Ho Po-wing, who are young men from Hong Kong trying to acclimatize in the foreign sphere of Argentina. Lai Yui-fai is the tender and gentle lover, who has relative success in settling in Argentina with manual jobs. Ho Po-wing is quite the opposite. He is obnoxious, promiscuous and demanding. And thus we witness the highs and lows, the love and lust of their on-and-off relationship.
Throughout the film, Lai and Ho are constantly looking at a lamp with the Iguazu Falls, a motif that symbolizes the idealization of their love for each other. One of the very first shots of the film is of the Iguazu Falls lamp and we also see the lovers, frustrated in the middle of a high way in this alien land of Argentina trying to find their way to this Utopian fall in the beginning of the film.
In this manner, Wong establishes the significance of the symbolism of the Iguazu Falls and we are left wondering if the lovers ever go to the falls. But they never make it to the falls, at least not together. Thus they do not achieve that utopia they secretly pine for. And they always have a sorrowful look in their eyes when they gaze at the lamp, sometimes with a cigarette dangling in their lips, because they both subconsciously know that they will never make it there together in reality, despite their love for each other. Even though they love each other tenderly and fiercely, the utopia will never materialize because as fiercely and tenderly as they love, they also hurt one another.
And as these two lovers traverse the Buenos Aires scene and have meaningless flings with strangers, the suadade in their eyes creates a desolately gloomy mood that can’t be easily shaken off.
When we see forlorn Lai at the waterfall, Wong Kar-wai reminds us to brace ourselves for the truth, no matter how melancholic, for life is not like the ideal version of spring.