Long Day’s Journey Into Night (2019; Bi Gan)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, May 3, at the Landmark Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Landmark California in Berkeley.
“A watch is a symbol of eternity. And it’s broken.”
Dreams, memories and hallucinations get stacked together like overlapping panes of glass in this all-guts-and-little-glory smoke curl of a movie by Kaili Blues director Bi Gan.
The tedious wonderland of Long Day’s Journey Into Night comes divided into two parts. In the first half, Gan draws on crime drama tropes and neon-noir atmosphere. It amounts to a chain-smoking hardman named Luo and a damaged woman with smeared lipstick posing and brooding in rain-soaked shadows for 72 minutes.
And just when it seems like the film will overdose on monotone monologues and sluggish tracking shots, Luo falls asleep inside a dingy moviehouse. The title card finally comes up, and the last hour of the film unfurls as a stunningly intricate single shot. The camera follows Luo through a ping-pong game, swoons onto a motorcycle and glides down a mountain. Whatever my ambivalence about the rest of the film, the technical achievement of this shot is nothing less than heroic.
“Moody Dream Logic”
During selected screenings, the final hour of Long Day’s Journey Into Night shows in 3-D. So is the final hour a dream? A willful hallucination? Recast scenes from the film that Luo sleep-watches? Of course, even during this astonishing sequence, Long Day’s Journey Into Night never loses its heavy-lidded gloom. Descriptors like “jaw-dropping” and “dreary as shit” collide with a rare force.
I gave up any pretense of following the so-called story early in the game (something about a dead friend from the past eating an apple), left resigned to appreciating textures and analyzing offscreen space instead of enjoying myself. Gan never treats his characters as anything more than soulless symbols, so we never feel anything resembling humanity or empathy.
A never-ending spool of moody dream logic drapes around the film like caterpillar silk, in case you’re into that sort of thing. Frankly, I can contemplate the indefinable despair of existence on my own time.