The life of Tao, and those close to her, is explored in three different time periods: 1999, 2014, and 2025.The life of Tao, and those close to her, is explored in three different time periods: 1999, 2014, and 2025.The life of Tao, and those close to her, is explored in three different time periods: 1999, 2014, and 2025.
Somewhere in Mountains May Depart there's a quote I can't recall that says, effectively, you can't spend your entire life with any one other person. While this may not be categorically true, if you think through the eras of a life - as a baby, toddler, childhood, teenager, young adult, middle-age, and so on - it is unlikely that any one person will be a part of your daily interactions throughout. Considering that, it can be true that the impact someone has on your life may be greater than the portion of time you spend with them. Through a handful of characters whose lives intertwine over three distinct periods of time - 1999, 2014, & 2025 - Chinese-born director Jia Zhangke explores and rejoices in the emotional resonance of our relationships in Mountains May Depart.
The three epochs of the film are each brilliantly conceived aesthetically to provide a subtle atmospheric guide to the scenes they are home to within the story. The boxy, more realistic and grainy style of the 1999 sequence - designed to match actual documentary footage the director and his cinematographer shot from the same period - is a little more raw, like the youthful emotions the characters experience in their mid-20's. Here we have a love triangle where our central character, Tao, is confronted with a choice between the brash, rich, and charming Jinsheng and the humble coal-miner Liangzi. The 2014 section is a wider aspect ratio with a higher quality, yet natural visual reflecting Tao's middle-aged experience. Life's lessons have provided a bit more perspective and the muted colors are like some of her dreams that haven't worked out as planned. She's divorced and facing a continental estrangement from her 7-year old son. A fully widescreen format with an artificial, over-developed HD quality evokes a 2025 that is equally more advanced and more separated from the past. This is the backdrop as Tao's son Dollar has to learn why he feels unsettled in a life he's done little to create for himself. Here, in a bit of an Oedipal twist, he develops a relationship with a surrogate mother of sorts that reminds the youth, now so far removed from his past that he can't even speak his first language, where he came from. For the first time of his own volition he makes the choice to search and reach backwards so that he can progress and grow. It hurts. You don't know if he achieves what he's reaching for but the important thing is that he chooses to do it.
Zhangke uses artifacts from his own life, from pop-culture, and of a more universal nature to serve as totems for emotional relationships that bridge the difference timelines. In 1999 Tao is young and bright, greeting each moment with a smile. She rejoices in music and food that bring her joy. Later in 2014 she faces losing everyone that is or has been important to her and these things become tools for holding on to what she's lost. A divorce left her with lots of money and a lost custody battle for her young son, whose father is abandoning all remnants of their culture and taking him to Australia. After panicking, Tao resolves to make the most impact she can on the impressionable and hungry heart of her little boy. She prepares several tokens for him to keep close through taste, touch, sound and feeling, as they will become further away than ever. The keys she gives Dollar are based on the director's own mother doing the same for him. It's possible she may never know the impact they have in his life but they become figuratively the keys to his unlocking his own freedom (see what I did there??) as he comes of age in 2025. These tokens used throughout the film, and especially two key pieces of music and the light-touch score from Yoshihiro Hanno, immediately have the same effect on the viewer each time they are re-introduced to signify a key relationship and emotion whose origin may be otherwise untraceable to the characters.
- Oct 20, 2016