Long Day's Journey Into Night
A man went back to Guizhou, found the tracks of a mysterious woman. He recalls the summer he spent with her twenty years ago.A man went back to Guizhou, found the tracks of a mysterious woman. He recalls the summer he spent with her twenty years ago.A man went back to Guizhou, found the tracks of a mysterious woman. He recalls the summer he spent with her twenty years ago.
I first came to hear of this film after reading the extraordinary hype around its cinematography, which features a staggering 55-minute long cut that continues until the end of the film. Let me be abundantly clear that every ounce of this hype is deserved; perhaps even an understatement.
"Long Day's Journey" is quite possibly the most aesthetically beautiful film I've ever seen. If not, it is certainly in the top five. Nearly every single frame of this film looks like it could belong in an art museum. It is shot impeccably, without error, for its entire 133 minute runtime. The cinematographers -- of which there are three -- heavily rely on color contrast, distortion in the shape of oscillating water, gorgeous close-ups, and slow dollying. It attaches itself effortlessly to the film's dreamlike tone, like two perfect jigsaw pieces. It's a platitude, I know -- but it has to be seen to be believed. If there's any justice in the world, "Long Day's Journey" will be shown in college cinematography classes around the world for decades to come.
The film jumps back and forth from present day to roughly 20 years prior, when our protagonist Luo Hongwu (Huang Jue) was spending time with his since long-lost love, Wan Qiwen (Tang Wei). The cuts that change time periods are not always recognizable, and the overall delivery of the plot is muddled at times. I think that these subtle cuts were an intentional decision by the director, Bi Gan, to preserve a sense of dreamlike continuity that works in favor of the film's tone. Unfortunately, it messed with the overall comprehension of the plot -- at times it was unclear if the action on-screen was supposed to be occuring in present day, or in the past. About 30 minutes into the film, I noticed that Hongwu's facial hair was slightly different depending on the time frame; once I figured this out, the unclear timeline wasn't a huge issue for me. At the same time, I can completely understand why some would be utterly baffled by the film because of this. The two poor people who sat behind me never figured it out, frequently making comments about how confused they were, and I can't blame them.
But at the same time, "Long Day's Journey" isn't truly about the plot. It's about a man's mind, and the feelings of beauty, pain, darkness, and light that comes with the notion of loving someone you should've moved on from a decade ago. In a way, the cinematography and the fantastic score are the true "directors" of the film, and bring these themes to life even more than the plot itself.
The final 55 minutes of the film -- the long cut I mentioned earlier -- is a clear break from the rest of the film; an "epilogue" if you will. It is entirely surreal, perhaps even nonsensical, and heavily alludes to themes and symbolism from the first 90ish minutes...similar to a dream you might have about the day you just lived through. The ending of the film is ambiguous and open to interpretation, like all dreams are. To that end, if I had to describe the entire film in one word, it would certainly be "dreamlike."
This isn't a film for everybody, and that's okay. If you're turned off by nonlinear storytelling, "Long Day's Journey" won't do you any favors; it's not nearly as cohesive and accessible as other films that use the same format. However, I'd reckon that even if you had a difficult time understanding the plot, the overall tone and cinematography will guide you through the rest of the film. If you leave with nothing else, you'll have seen one of the most visually beautiful films of all time.
Take it to the bank, you'll see this film in the running for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars next year.
- Jun 3, 2019