For whatever reason, certain lesser films have greater impact on us than truly great ones, leaving us with the dichotomy of ‘favorite movies vs. great films’. Though film lovers generally agree on a core canon of films reserved for posterity, everyone has his or her list of favorite films(some of which may even be of dubious artistic worth). For all I know, one of the greatest achievements in cinema may be CHILDREN OF PARADISE, a 1940s French classic, but it’s never been a film I’ve wanted to revisit. I feel likewise about THE GRAND ILLUSION and RULES OF THE GAME(by Jean Renoir)though their greatness is undeniable.
These peculiar feelings about movies apply as well to much else in life. People may personally prefer a simple cuisine over an elaborate one, a state park with bluffs over a national park with mountains, a girl-next-door to a fashion model. Cary Grant, Robert Redford, and George Clooney are handsome men, but some women prefer the eccentricities of Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Michael Caine.
If greatness can be a bit overwhelming, perfection may be a bit boring. Perfection tends to lack personality(which is nothing without flaws and peculiarities); this explains why many women prefer Paul Newman to Robert Redford though Bob is more perfect in looks. Newman had ‘character’ to his looks and manners; Redford did not–though he had some in JEREMIAH JOHNSON, his best film not least because he played against type. There is a ‘human element’ in imperfection. We identify and feel closer to humans than to gods. Even as we elevate certain people toward godliness, we also humanize the godly, and there is no greater example of this than Jesus Christ, said to be the humanization of the almighty and perfect God. Christians worship the abstract God but feel close to Jesus, alleged to be God in human form. Wrapped in human flesh, Jesus shared in our imperfections and flaws. When pelted with a stone, He experienced pain of the flesh. Christians regard Him as having been the Perfect Man, but He was not perfect in the sense that God in Heaven is perfect. He was not invincible in flesh. His flesh bruised and bled like ours. It was His spirit which made Him ‘perfect’. Even so, it is because of His manifestation in human form that His spirit was tested in a way that the spirit of God in Heaven could never be. God in Heaven looks down on us. Jesus dwelt and suffered along with us. Through Jesus as the intermediary between man’s imperfection and God’s perfection, we feel closer to God and God feels closer to us.
There was a French movie called TOO BEAUTIFUL FOR YOU(by Bertrand Blier, 1989)that dwelt on the theme of perfection vs attraction in romance. I never liked the films of Blier–a pervert in my book–, but TBFY conveyed a certain truth.
I don’t think WICKER PARK is a great film though it might have been in surer hands. Yet, it is one of the films I’ve really come to love. Stranger yet, after having seen the French original, L’APPARTEMENT(written & directed by Gilles Mimouni) , and recognizing it as superior on every level–it is I think one of the greatest films ever made–, I still prefer WICKER PARK. So, my head goes with L’APPARTEMENT, but my heart runs to WICKER PARK.
Reasons for such inconsistency/incongruity owe to differences of personality and biography–also to happenstance. WICKER PARK might have affected me differently in another time or place under different circumstances. I just happened to become acquainted with the movie when I was most vulnerable to its charms.
Generally, the history of Hollywood adaptations of European films has been a poor one. Perhaps the worst example is the remake of the Dutch film THE VANISHING. Another sorry example is the brilliant Spanish film OPEN YOUR EYES remade into VANILLA SKY(more like vanilla pie)by the Crowe/Cruise team.
There have been exceptions. I personally prefer Nolan’s remake of INSOMNIA.
WICKER PARK happily belongs in the rare category of successful adaptations even if it falls short of the original.
It preserved the mysterious romantic essence of the original while adding something uniquely charming and American. Of course, in our globalized era, it’s less meaningful to speak of ‘European’ as opposed to ‘American’ culture. Indeed, the French film begins with an English language song, and when we first meet the main character, we learn he’d been working in New York and is headed for Japan. And throughout the film, there is much we recognize among the French that would be normal in America. And WICKER PARK is also about restless and rootless youth, children of the world, one might say. Both films seem to recognize this, at once celebrating globalist liberties and decrying its atomizing/alienating impact. In THE APARTMENT, the woman is torn between a more traditional French lover(who mostly remains in the shadows) and the newer kind of ‘Americanized’ French male, the main character.
And the title ‘Wicker Park’ is significant in the sense that it denotes a place, specific and personalized by the two people, in a world without borders and loyalties.
The biggest difference between the two films is in the way they end; the remake deviates almost entirely from the original. The ending of WICKER PARK could be dismissed as a Hollywood copout–the happy ending–as opposed to the edgy philosophical angst and alienation of the original. But, I prefer the ending of WICKER PARK, if only due to the ‘accident’ of how I came to see the two films.
I rented out WICKER PARK on dvd in 2004 for the simple reason that I’d lived in the Wicker Park area in my childhood with my aunt for about a year and half in the late 70s. I haven’t been back to Chicago since–at least not for prolonged stays–but still remember the days when, as a child, I roamed about freely(without much supervision)and came to be deeply affected by the sights and sounds of Chicago. So, merely the title ‘Wicker Park’ drew me to the film.
I watched the movie with a friend, and neither of us particularly cared for the story, characters, or convoluted plot. I thought the ending was a tad mushy and would soon forget the whole thing. But I didn’t; if anything, it kept growing in my mind over the years until I finally decided to give it another try earlier this year. Not only did I find myself liking it a lot more but noticed in the credits that it was based on a French film called L’APPARTEMENT. Upon another viewing, I completely fell in love with the movie.
Naturally, I thought the ending was based on the French original, which I sought out and watched soon thereafter. What I noticed immediately about the French original was the brilliance and mastery of film style and technique. WICKER PARK features solid filmmaking, but THE APARTMENT is clearly a work of an artist, a true master of the camera stylo. In the framing of images, choregraphy of objects and spaces, and use of time, a muted resplendency lingers from beginning to end. And Vincent Cassel is a finer actor than Josh Hartnett–though the actresses were about equal.
WICKER PARK is geared somewhat to the mainstream crowd–the teen audience. This is especially true in the casting of Josh Hartnett character’s best friend; the French counterpart is more adult in look and personality.
Even so, except for the ending, about 90% of THE APARTMENT was almost identical to WICKER PARK in plot and character. The endings, which will be discussed later, are so radically different that I think I almost went into shock. Having become smitten with the Pair-of-Aces ending of WICKER PARK, I felt cheated by THE APARTMENT’s dealing a very different hand; I didn’t expect the Joker.
Of course, given that THE APARTMENT came first, WICKER PARK is the real guilty party. Maybe if I’d seen THE APARTMENT first, I would have dismissed WICKER PARK’s ending as an Hollywood copout. Be that as it may, I came to accept and respect both endings as both films are about the role of chance in shaping our perceptions and directing our actions. I even came to ask, was it accident or fate that led me to WICKER PARK first, thereby assuring me with its perfect ending, thus setting a trap for the eventual shock with THE APARTMENT? But what if I’d come across THE APARTMENT first? Life isn’t just about what happens but when what happens.
Of course, the same dynamic applies to whether one experiences a novel or the film adaptation first. So much of what we embrace with certainty and conviction are products of accident and happenstance–though we like to believe it’s fate. This is no less true of one’s religious and ideological beliefs as with one’s love of art and persons; the ordering of events and encounters is crucial. And both films clue us to the way in which we are affected by and affect others in the same manner. We are part of a chain reaction, chaotic and random, but where certain links form to guard against this melee of uncertainty, producing what we call ‘order’ and ‘meaning’; love is an ordering of passion, whereby the accidental is narrated into the fateful.
Both films owe something to the works of Hitchcock, especially VERTIGO, one of the most influential films ever, casting a shadow that continues to inspire and intimidate filmmakers to this day. I must confess, however, that even though VERTIGO is infinitely greater than WICKER PARK, I like WICKER PARK more, especially for its accessibility. VERTIGO is a romantic fantasy mystery. With its darkly alluring and enticing plot, we know better than to confuse it with reality. It takes place in the cine-fantasy of the mind. In contrast, WICKER PARK has a feel of reality that allows for intimacy and warmth, qualities generally absent in Hitchcock movies.
Old Hollywood gave us bigger-than-life stars like Cary Grant. Though movie stars didn’t always play glamorous or fantastic roles–Gary Cooper in MEET JOHN DOE for example–, there was generally a dividing line between movie world and the real world. This is no less true today as most Hollywood movies stick to genre rules; even Hollywood realism is more style than representation.
WICKER PARK is something of a genre movie as well, in the romance/mystery vein, sprinkled with comedic touches. Also, the plot is too elaborate or convoluted to be real. Yet, the movie feels located in a world we recognize as one we live in. And given that reality is as subjective as objective, or psychological as well as physical, WICKER PARK’s juggling of the world-as-is and world-as-seen-and-felt makes it more real than real than purely ‘realist’ films. Poetic reality may be the most potent kind of reality. We don’t just exist; we exist in the streams of our emotions.
What follows are ‘spoilers’ galore, so if you want to fully enjoy WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT, I recommend you not read the following before first seeing either film. Biased as I am due to particular circumstances that led me to both films, I highly recommend that you view WICKER PARK first though THE APARTMENT is the superior original. The ending of WICKER PARK works like a charm–even a small miracle–, but only if you don’t know the ending of THE APARTMENT.
The overall situation, as opposed to the plot, in WICKER PARK is simple enough. Matthew(Josh Hartnett), working in a video repair shop, catches a glimpse of Lisa(Diane Kruger), a blonde beauty, instantly becomes obsessed with her, and stalks her; and they fall in love. But due to a misunderstanding, he thinks she dumped him, and in a fit of bitter rage he moves to another city and becomes another person–a respectable professional with good career prospects, indeed even about to be engaged to the attractive sister-in-law of one of the big shots at the firm. At a restaurant just before his business trip to China, he thinks he overheard Lisa, the woman he lost two yrs ago and still can’t get out of his heart. Instead of going to China, he tracks down the possible whereabouts of Lisa and slips into her apartment. But the ‘Lisa’ he finds turns out to another person altogether. Meanwhile, Matthew is staying with his friend Luke(Matthew Lillard)who is trying to score with Alex(Rose Byrne), a neurotic and troubled theatre actress. Matthew(Hartnett) concludes he’s on a wild sheep chase and decides to catch a flight to China… but he decides to check things for one last time. As in the Cinderella story, shoes serve as a motif, and it just so happens that ‘Lisa’ has the wrong foot size. In the end, it turns out that ‘Lisa’ is really Alex, the woman dating Matthew’s friend Luke. She’d been in love with Matthew all along and has even been using Luke as a bridge. She also pulled a foul trick to separate Matthew and the real Lisa.
The film progresses on two levels, in the present and in prolonged flashbacks. Some of the shifts between past and present are so deft and subtle–especially in the French original–that the viewer can easily lose his or her sense of time and place(if not for different hairstyles between the two periods). I suppose this osmotic slippage between past and present was deliberate, to convey the sense that the past is always with us–indeed that certain episodes or images from the past psychologically recur and replay themselves, haunting and coloring how we see and live the present.
On paper, the plot seems overly convoluted. Yet, there is something real and life-like about the characters and locality(the overall look)–more so in WICKER PARK than in THE APARTMENT. Neither film is confined to romantic fantasy or mythic storytelling–as in VERTIGO or MARNIE. If VERTIGO is about larger-than-life characters–even the revelation of Kim Novack’s real identity works more as a contrived mystery/suspense device–, the characters of WICKER PARK are very much like people all around us(albeit better looking). Many of the situations feel like something that could happen to us and has happened to us(albeit not so poetically). If VERTIGO is a mirror reflecting our mythic psyche, WICKER PARK does so too but also something else, something humbler and truer as life as lived than purely idealized or fantasized. VERTIGO is a monument, WICKER PARK is about the moment.
And it is this juggling of genre mythos and real life yearnings(and learnings) that sets WICKER PARK apart from most movies. It can’t simply be categorized as a genre movie or a realist film. It tiptoes through the generally incompatible minefield between fantasy and actuality. There’s a sense of violation and trespassing in genre devices intruding on reality and vice versa, but then, trepassing is one of the recurring motifs in WICKER PARK.
Generally, films about real reality are too prosaic and earnest in documenting the harsh or bleak ‘truths’ of life to acknowledge the poetic reality of the mind. In most cases, genre films give us what we want to see while realist films slap us with the cold palm of ‘truth’. The wonderment of WICKER PARK is the way it slips back and forth between the two modes.
It is the rare film, like MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, that maintains a degree of emotional truth through what essentially amounts to genre storytelling. There is nothing supernatural in WICKER PARK, but it belongs in the romance genre, and fans of the genre will not be disappointed. But it is more challenging and rewarding because there’s the sense that love, however poetic, must comes to terms with reality.
For example, the Romance rulebook says to make some people look bad to make others look good or justified. For example, if A is with B but goes with C, the trick is to make B look bad to justify A’s going with C. But reality isn’t so neat. People who lose out do not always deserve what they get, and even ‘good’ people leave behind innocent casualties. It is to the WICKER PARK’s credit that it understands and addresses this aspect of reality. It is not only about two people who belong to one another but about their casualties, not all of them guilty and deserving of pain and humiliation. WICKER PARK lurks in some shady area between genre and reality, between life and dreams.
Indeed, once the plot is boiled down to essentials, nothing really strange or sinister took place in WICKER PARK. There was one huge misunderstanding thanks to the secondrate trickery–unworty even to qualify as treachery–of a neurotic woman.
It’s as if the real reason for the mysterious breakdown of a machine turned out to be nothing more than a loose nut. But then, what if even(or especially)nuts have the power to dream?
In VERTIGO, there was a fantastic plot engineered by an evil husband to kill his wife and inherit her fortune. People are certainly wronged in WICKER PARK, but there is no dark overarching conspiracy.
So, why does the film feel so strange? Because love is obsessive and makes people ‘do crazy things’, as Alex explains herself at the end. Love, associated closely with emotions such as jealousy, hope, despair, rage, bitterness, and forgiveness, also makes people SEE crazy things. Love is a drug, with highs and lows; it’s no wonder ‘love sickness’ was considered a genuine illness in the Middle Ages. WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT are among the films that best capture the hallucinatory aspects of love, conveying moods and impressions ranging from the pure and holy to the dark and seedy. Matthew’s search for Lisa is both like a knightly quest and a junkie’s addiction.
Love can have a happy ending or a tragic ending, but in literature and movies there is no greater happiness or sadness, no greater fulfillment and no greater sense of loss, than feelings and stories associated with love. Even in the great war film SEVEN SAMURAI the decisive factor in one peasant’s will to fight is the loss of his wife to bandits.
Indeed, why do men fight? For bread and peace but also because a world of bread and peace is more conducive to romantic love. In a world of total chaos and disorder, rapacious lust is the order of the day. Knights fought to win the hearts of women, but the romanticism of their world depended on the code of chivalry that applied to all. If knights had been into eye-gouging, ear-biting, ball-smooshing, and gloating over the fallen by pissing over dead bodies, there would have been no romance. (Indeed, one of the reasons for the death of romance in the West is the rise of the Negro. Negroes are raw, wild, and jiveass. They love to act funky, vulgar, and gloat over the defeated. They have no use for honor, nobility, or sportsmanship. Indeed, Ali was a jiveass megalomaniac punk and never showed any sign of nobility; his so-called nobility was manufactured and projected ONTO him by mostly liberal Jewish sportswriters and controllers of MSM. Jews have this tendency to ‘humanize’ and ennoble blacks in unwarranted ways. Recently, the disgusting Jewish filmmaker James Toback tried to do just this with Mike Tyson of all people. Even Iron Mike was made out to be deserving of our sympathy and even respect. Anyway, blacks love to act like funkyass chillun who howl like gorillas. But they are strong and can defeat white guys who have a sense of honor and nobility. When men with honor lose to men without, there’s bound to be a sea change in the culture. Thus, the new template for manhood has become Negro-fied, and even white guys pitifully imitate the Negro mofo. Worse, white women come to associate honor, nobility, and chivalry with sappiness, flabbiness, and white male pussyboyness, and come to admire and prefer Negro punkass jiveassness as REAL MANHOOD. In this way, the West becomes Negro-fied and white women become jungle-feverized. This is why racial separation between whites and blacks is the only feasible solution.)
But there’s an element of irony for love has to be(fought for and)won, and there is always something of the knight and damsel in the affairs of love. And even in peace, love often serves as the emotion driving individuals to violence, outward or inward. Those who love also desire to be loved back, and a timeless theme in life and literature has been unrequited love. I wonder if the most love stories were written by people who loved but weren’t loved back, and so they fantasized about requited love and ‘happily thereafter’ through fiction.
There’s a fairytale element in love, especially in the notion of one’s dormant yearnings crystallizing(or chrysalis-izing)into poetry upon the gaze or embrace of that special person. This object of desire may not even be the prettiest or handsomest person; rather, he or she could have qualities that click just right with yours. As Rocky said of Adriane, he has gaps, she has gaps, and they fill them together. It could also be the manner in which the special person entered one’s life, a matter of chance. It’s no wonder so many soldiers fell in love with nurses. Lying wounded in a hospital bed, a refuge from the carnage of men vs men, a soldier could easily mistake a nurse as an angel sent from above. One of the most famous love stories of the 20th century is Hemingway’s A FAREWELL TO ARMS. It is also interesting that Alex pretends to work as a nurse.
In both WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT, the male lead in the flashback sequences is something of a bohemian slacker, adrift and dreamy. But he lives life as it happens as if there’s no tomorrow–the privilege of youth. Both Matt(WICKER PARK) and Max(THE APARTMENT)could be said to be slumming, underachieving, or wasting their lives, but they are not without freewheeling vitality. And it is in this happy-go-lucky spiritedness that Matt or Max discovers THE WOMAN of his life and wins her heart. One may wonder why a good-looking gal would fall for a guy like that. Well, life is strange, love is stranger, and things like can happen, especially if the woman is also a young, free-spirited, and lives for the moment. In one way, WICKER PARK is about two gamblers in love who picked the right cards, which however got lost in the next shuffle.
Crucially, the woman in WICKER PARK is a dancer and the woman in THE APARTMENT is an actress. From my experience, women in the creative fields tend not to make the sanest decisions in romance. They are prone to be carried off by feeling and mood than brains. (That both the real Lisa and the imposter ‘Lisa’ of THE APARTMENT are actresses adds an extra dimension to the doubling motif.) This isn’t to suggest Matthew(Hartnett) or Max(Cassel)are worthless fellas. I rather like Hartnett’s sensitive mug and tenderness, and there’s something to be said for Cassel’s screen personality ranging from goofy charm to dark anguish. Besides, why shouldn’t love be more about emotions than rational calculations, espcially concerning money and status? And of course, young people in love feel that their passions are forever, which is what makes youth special. Enjoy it while you can. Think too much about relationships and you become like one of those annoying characters in Woody Allen movies.
The present tense in both films takes place two yrs after the lovers have separated, and both Matthew and Max are what one might call promising careerists–even yuppies–on the up and up. They are well-suited, prim, alert, and ‘responsible’. This applies to their romantic prospects as well. Both films begin with the protagonists in jewelry shops looking at engagement rings. (The scene in the French version is more significant for each ring symbolizes the one of the three women in his life.) The opening is significant for jewelry symbolizes both calculation & status AND beauty & mystery. Max and Matthew are looking for a ring for their prospective fianceés, a kind of monetization of love, yet the light shone from the rings elicits buried yearning for true love–who happens to be someone other.
In the present, both Max and Matthew look very professional and well-groomed. In the flashback, Max has messy hair and a pony-tail, and Matthew looks a bit unkempt and bohemian. It’s as though both guys have done their utmost to bury their sorrow from two years back with radical make-overs. If you can’t win in love, maybe you can with money and status. And they seem to be doing fine, and their new ladies are quite lovely in their own way. And indeed it would be wrong to assume that they hooked up with these ladies purely for career reasons even if the ladies are related to important men in the firms. But the fact remains that these ladies, no matter their attractiveness or decency(as far as I could discern), simply cannot compare with Lisa, the woman who stole Max/Matt’s heart. This is the difference between affection and love, between devotion and obsession. While Max and Matthew seem sincerely willing to devote themselves to their new lovers, it only takes a reminder or a whiff of THE woman of two yrs back to set their minds reeling and hearts on a wild sheep chase. (WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT appeal to notions of romantic love but also to the romance of youth. Following graduation, no one wants to settle right into career and/or family. Young people naturally want to ‘find themselves’, as if they have all the time in the world; people who miss this chance are likely to feel bitter; people who continue ‘finding themselves’ long past youth have gone from looking ahead to looking back. Yet, if there is a paradox of youth, it is the love of freedom to discover and to possess and to be possessed by that thing and/or person that becomes the purest embodiment of one’s dreams. This is certainly true of ROMEO AND JULIET, which is both about the freedom and the slavery of love. The star-crossed lovers invoke the freedom to love, but they can’t imagine a life outside their love. Freedom to love turns into a slavery of love. Anyway, time passes, and we have to make ‘mature’ decisions. We can’t dream forever. So, both films begin in the present when Matthew/Max and Lisa seem to have found a suitable niche in life. Matthew and Max found good jobs and Lisa found a rich lover who, though married, provides her with luxury and privilege. They are materially and socially better off but have slipped into that ‘plastics’ zone that Benjamin Braddock dreaded in THE GRADUATE. It is through Matthew or Max’s search for Lisa that the fairytale of not only love but youth is rekindled.)
WICKER PARK’s strange mood derives from its dwelling between reality and fantasy and from its perverse violations of physical and psychological distances. While Matthew is supposed to be in China, he’s really in Chicago. While Max is supposed to be in Japan, he’s still in Paris. There is a sense of disorientation and deception–of-the-self-as-well-as-of-others–throughout. (There are also overlapping layers of deception.) Matt/Max’s girlfriend thinks, via cellphone, that her lover is on the opposite side of the world when, in fact, he is lurking about in the same place–Matthew in Chicago, Max in Paris. One’s sense of belonging is affected not only by where but when. Even at home, we can feel out-of-place if we should be at school or work. One can feel as a stranger in one’s own home–consider the scene in BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY when Ron Kovic(Tom Cruise)feels restless and alienated in his own home on the night of the prom(that he chose to skip), which also happens to be the day before he ships out to boot camp. Because Max and Matthew are not where they should be, even their hometown cities–Paris and Chicago–feel like a strange and mystery places, like a parallel universes. Having violated the rule of where-one-should-be, it’s as if they’ve slipped into a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland. (Perhaps, this explains the character named ‘Alice’ in THE APARTMENT.)
Matthew and Lisa–or Max and Lisa–, though feeling lost to one another through vast distances and eons, are actually within the confines of the same neighborhood in the same city. This is all the weirder when we consider the conquest of distances by the internet and the cell phones. We can feel ‘next door’ to someone in another part of the world and communicate with numerous strangers on forums and social networking sites yet remain unknown or unnoticed to those around us. It’s as if we’re both everywhere and nowhere. Distance is as much psychological as physical, and today it is techno-psychological, with the two facets merging ever closer.
Max and Matthew are not where they should be in more ways than one. They trespass into hotel rooms and apartments in the hope that they might find Lisa. Both also open and read a letter addressed to Lisa by another man.
Both oddly and naturally enough, we don’t view these actions necessarily wrong or outlandish given the dynamics of identification in fiction. Whether the main character is a lover or criminal, our identification with him tends to suspend our moral judgment–which is why we go along with bank robbers in crime movies though we know crime is wrong. Our investment in the protagonist’s agenda blinds us to ethical questions. We believe in the passions of Matthew and Max, so we don’t fully realize the extent of their trespasses and improprieties.
Doors are among the running motifs in both films, what with various characters entering and exiting, rightfully and wrongfully, into each other’s lives.
Another key motif is Lisa’s powder case with a cracked mirror, its fractures reflecting Matt/Max’s conflicted psyche–adding a touch to thematic flashes evoked by the rings. Matt/Max finds another ‘Lisa’ than the real Lisa. Later, we discover that this ‘Lisa’ is actually a woman named Alex(in WICKER PARK) or Alice(in THE APARTMENT). Alex or Alice created another Lisa–whom we shall refer to as ‘Lisa’–to gain access to Matthew or Max, in body and in spirit; she wants, at the very least, to play the role of Max/Matt’s dream object. (Though Matthew or Max trespasses into ‘Lisa’s apartment, she is also sneaking into his life for it turns out that the apartment belongs to the real Lisa, who is staying at Alice/Alex’s–‘Lisa’–apartment to hide from by her rich lover–who has the extra key–whom she’d come to distrust and even fear. So, ‘Lisa’ pretends to be the occupant of the apartment that belongs to her friend, the real Lisa, who is staying at her–‘Lisa’s–apartment. ‘Lisa’ is not pretending to be the Lisa but another Lisa–‘Lisa’. But as Matthew or Max enters the apartment hoping to find Lisa, they encounter ‘Lisa’, which gives her the chance to nurture a relationship. This is further complicated when one considers that the apartment, though belonging to the real Lisa, has no doubt been paid for the rich lover–indeed, it’s quite a fancy place. So, whose apartment is it really? As long as the apartment belongs to Lisa, she belongs to the rich man she doesn’t really love. And things get even more complicated when the rich lover spies on the apartment and sees the silhouettes of Matthew or Max with ‘Lisa’ in the window. He thinks Lisa–the real Lisa–is cheating on him with another man. In WICKER PARK, this narrative with the rich lover tapers off into insignificance whereas in THE APARTMENT, the rich guy in the shadows reenters Lisa’s life again.)
Matthew/Max is livid with ‘Lisa’ when he discovers she’d played games to divide him from the real Lisa, but ‘Lisa’ is unapologetic, at least to the extent that she was true to her passions. Alex(of WICKER PARK)says, ‘Love makes you do crazy things, insane things. Things in a million years you’d never see yourself do. But there you are doing them… can’t help it’. Very true of ‘Lisa’–Alex or Alice–indeed. But shouldn’t Max and Matthew also take a look in the mirror, cracked or otherwise? In searching for Lisa, what have they done? Haven’t they done crazy things in their wild sheep chase, violating rules(opening up secret letters), trespassing(into hotel rooms and apartments), and lying to their current lovers(who think they are in China or Japan)? Blinded by romantic love, they too became blind to their craziness.
(THE APARTMENT and WICKER PARK raise some questions about the paradoxical nature about love. We generally associate love with knowledge and intimacy. After all, we love family members, friends, and pets in our loves. If love is a deep and powerful emotion, the natural assumption is it involves something/someone we are very close to and knowledgeable of. But there are two facets to love between lovers. There is romantic love and there is affectionate love. The latter kind develops over time, through intimacy, and indeed one can come to love and care for a lover or spouse who ain’t quite a looker if you know what I mean. But romantic love is different and relies more on ignorance–or the imagination of ignorance–than knowledge. Certain things or persons trigger certain responses whereby one projects his or her fantasies on the object of his/her obsession. He or she imagines things about that thing or person that the thing or person may not possess. This was true enough with John Lennon and Mark Chapman. Chapman loved the mythic Lennon, the pop cultural catcher in the rye. When the real Lennon turned out to be something else, Chapman went from twisted to snapped. The movie MISERY works on a similar theme. And yet, this is the rub: ‘imagination of ignorance’ may the most powerful kind of love there is. Why should this be so? Is it merely a case of lust? Not so. A guy may drool after some sexy babe or a girl may feel horny looking at some stud, but that’s just animal emotions. Raw sexuality is like hunger; it demands satiation than triggers imagination–the domain of the sensual. In the case of poetic imagination released by sensual attraction, one falls madly in love not so much with the actual person–whom one may barely know–but with his or her mythic aura, with certain mysterious feelings set off by the mere presence or thought of that person. One projects one’s own dreams, fantasies, and delusions on that person, and he or she becomes larger-than-life, more-real-than-reality, the redemptive messiah of beauty–for one’s own salvation than for humanity. This was what happens in VERTIGO and even in MARNIE. Even when one comes to win the confidence and affection of the other, everything about him or her may seem special, at least until the magic finally rubs off–there is a famous cruelly funny scene in 8 1/2 where a young man devoted to Guido’s wife watches casting calls of actresses auditioning to play her, and we can see the scales falling from his eyes. A person under the spell of romantic imagination experiences the hallucination of the heart. For instance, if the object of one’s passion happens to be Greek, everything about Greece may seem special. Or if object of love happens to be Russian, one may become fascinated with everything Russian. Of course, if the object of love is obtained, romance almost always fades. The moon certainly isn’t what it used to be once man landed there. This may explain why if romantic love doesn’t evolve into affectionate love, the love is doomed since romance up-close loses its allure. In both WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT, Matthew and Max romantically fall in love with Lisa. Even before they get to know her, she becomes their everything. After becoming a couple, their romantic love could have turned into an affectionate love, but the sudden separation–with Lisa thinking Matthew/Max left her and vice versa–derails any such chance. But a sense of mystery lingers over the yrs because neither really knows what happened and why; it feeds their imagination. It was a break-up but without closure. Both parties felt betrayed but without knowing why. It doesn’t go from romantic love to delusioned reality but to tragic love, a darker and perhaps more powerful version of romantic love; similarly, Scotty in VERTIGO becomes even more mad about Madeline after her death because he can’t figure out the why. (Interestingly enough, the French may be more
fascinated with themes related to love and mystery. Consider THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE and COLONEL CHABERT, both of which involve the reappearance of a man thought to have disappeared for good. To be sure, neither involves romantic love but the ideal of love and devotion is complicated by the conflict between factuality and mystery.) And so it is with feverish and inspired curiosity that Matthew or Max pursues Lisa once again upon hearing her voice.
There is a ghost story feel to the story, as though Max and Matthew are haunted by an apparition from the past. And the presentation of technology as both a conduit and barrier between souls echoes MOTHMAN PROPHECIES, another movie steeped in romantic melancholy. Romantic love is paradoxical for it requires both intimacy and distance, perhaps simultaneously. The intimacy could be real or imagined. Even if one never comes to know the person of one’s desire, ceaseless fantasies about him or her could make him or her a part of oneself. But romantic love is also about desiring what cannot be obtained. This is true enough if the object of love remains out of reach or lost. Consider what the character Bernstein says of the girl in a white dress in CITIZEN KANE–how he’d caught a glimpse of her by chance long ago but not a day went by without his thinking about her. But even if one were to win the object of one’s desire, the romance is unlikely to last unless there remains something of sublime mystery about the person; his or her essence remains elusive even in embrace. And there is also the aspect of ‘eating the cake and having it too’ given the element of worship in romance. This is truer with man’s feelings for a woman than vice versa. A man who worships a woman like a goddess may indeed want to go sleep with her, but does he really want to hump a dream?
To be sure, we shouldn’t lose ourselves to moral equivalence in regards to the fact taht both Alex/Alice and Matt/Max violate private spaces to get what they want.
Matthew/Max did have a genuine relationship with Lisa, and the love was mutual. It wasn’t a one-way obsession. At they very least, Matthew/Max is chasing after a woman who may still love him, which indeed proves to be the case, as Lisa in both films is haunted by memories of Matthew and Max. In contrast, Alex and Alice were motivated by a one-way obsession, and they used the friends of Matthew and Max–Luke and Lucien–in a manner more devious and cruel than how Matthew and Max ‘used’ their prospective fiancees. Yet, there are an overarching pattern and similarities between the obsessions of Alice/Alex and of Max/Matthew. And besides, a part of Max/Matt seems to feel flattered that a woman, however nutty, went so far out of love for him.
(Strange as it may sound, one could even argue that Max’s abandonment of Lisa and running off to Alice in THE APARTMENT is his way of reuniting with Lisa. Not Lisa in the flesh but as a kind of ‘spiritual’ essence; Alice loves him in the way he loves Lisa; he is to Alice what Lisa was to him; thus, he embodies the Lisa-as-spirit in the sense that he’s the object of someone’s worshipful love.)
Crucially though, there’s a key difference between the two films in the responses of Matthew and Max to the love shown by ‘Lisa’. When Matthew and Max entered the apartment looking to find Lisa but found ‘Lisa’ instead, not only were their hopes deflated but they strangely became drawn to ‘Lisa’, to the point where they surrendered to her advances. This can be taken four ways: an act of betrayal against real Lisa(not to mention their fiancees), a desperate yearning for the real Lisa through ‘Lisa’, temporary bout of madness from exhaustion, and a surrender to the likelihood that the real Lisa will never be found.
But if Matthew in WICKER PARK regards his fling with ‘Lisa’ as a thoughtless indiscretion borne of confusion and hormones, Max seems subtly yet profoundly transformed by it.
For Matthew, there is only Lisa, the real Lisa. She will always be the only true love no matter what happens. Even amidst all the accidents, chances, and coincidences, he is guided by a sense of fate. This is a deeply romantic view, and we share the pangs of his heart as he belatedly arrives and waits for Lisa at Wicker Park–to no avail, by the way, as she’d arrived earlier and then left for the airport when he didn’t show. Viewers may be reminded of the ill-fated scene in DR. ZHIVAGO where the ailing doctor crosses path with Lara for one last time(without her knowing).
In WICKER PARK, messages come and go via letters, notes, phone calls, and friends, but it’s seems as though Matthew and Lisa, though in the same neighborhood in the same city, will never cross paths again before heading off to different parts of the world–once again. Matthew, sensing Lisa already left the designated park for the rendezvous, heads for the airport where, lo and behold, he bumps into his current lover, the would-be fianceé who thinks he just arrived from China(when he’d been in Chicago all this time). Bad situation, and Matthew finally comes clean and explains that she isn’t the love of his life, and it’s to the film’s credit for not making her out to be a wicked witch to justify Matthew’s betrayal of her; his confession, however sincere and well-meaning, is terribly hurtful, and she certainly didn’t deserve it. Then dashing through the airport, he spots Lisa, her back turned away from him, huddled over a suitcase talking on her cellphone–with Alex no less, who finally confesses her lies to keep Lisa and Matthew apart. Even from behind, Matthew knows it’s Lisa, walks over, and kneels as if in prayer. As if by a mystic connection, Lisa feels his presence, turns around, and sees(‘finds’)Matthew. They embrace in reverent silence, the moment sculpted into timelessness; busybodies around them walk past them in slow motion. The song ‘The Scientist’ by Cold Play serves as a perfect distillation of their emotions–and also as a thematic summary of the film, coincidental since the song predates the film’s production. (Incidentally, it is one of the best uses of pop songs in movies, ranking up there with Cat Stevens’s contribution to HAROLD AND MAUDE, Simon and Garfunkel to THE GRADUATE, and Harry Nilsson to THE MIDNIGHT COWBOY.) The ending, which I found sappy on first viewing, is a perfect ending to the story. After so many missed chances and mixed signals, they finally tune into the same wavelength. Chance melds into fate. The ending of WICKER PARK feel just right. And just.
Now, we come to the ending of THE APARTMENT, profoundly different from WICKER PARK’s. Having seen WICKER PARK first, naturally I expected much the same from the French original, and the narrative heads in that direction… except in the final quarter of the film. Max, unlike Matthew, feels a strange affection for ‘Lisa’ and eventually–even after the revelation that ‘Lisa’ is really Alice–, chooses Alice over Lisa. So much for true love. It is all the more jarring since Lisa in the French film is dropdead gorgeous whereas ‘Lisa’ or Alice is only so-so(though one hell of an actress). (In WICKER PARK, though Lisa is conventionally more attractive than Alex, the latter is also something of a beauty–at least in my estimation.) The Great True Love of Max’s life changes from Lisa to Alice. Alice not only deceived but won his heart. My expectations derailed, dramatically and emotionally, I found myself utterly flustered, to say the least. But there is more. In the final scene at the airport where Max meets up with Alice–as opposed to Matthew finding Lisa at the airport in WICKER PARK–, she tells him to wait while she goes to reclaim her luggage but then ditches him and goes off to catch her flight to Rome while Max is left stranded, soon thereafter to be met by his would-be-fianceé. She of course thinks he’s just returned from Japan. As Max is, one might say, trapped in his fiancee’s embrace, Alice turns around and looks at him–rather dispassionately one might add–for one last time, and so the film ends. We see in his face a mixture of betrayal, loss, anger, and incredulity. (One possible interpretation as to Alice’s betrayal of Max could be her desire to savor her triumph as a lover, temptress, and a redemptress–for lack of a better term. She did win his affection as ‘Lisa’, then she won his heart as Alice at the airport, and then she does the ‘right thing’ by walking out of his life. She may still love him, but she can finally accept herself as the master of her own fate.)
What about the real Lisa? Things get even more convoluted here. Let’s just say, when Max failed to appear at the designated meeting place, she went back to her apartment where lurking in the corner is the middle aged rich guy still obsessively in love with her and on the precipice of committing a ‘double suicide’–or maybe homicide/suicide is more like it. As the apartment explodes, Max’s friend Lucien stands outside thinking it is Alice(his lover) who’s in the inflamed apartment; you see, Alice had borrowed Lisa’s car, and Lucien, seeing the car outside the apartment, thought it belonged to Alice. All of this may sound confusing, and it certainly was to me on the first viewing.
Anyway, this ending, which I considered totally wacky, initially put me off to THE APARTMENT. I thought it the better film but saddled with an unnecessarily perverse ending. Why so twisted and anguished than affirming and beautiful(though, to be sure, perhaps there’s an element of dark tragic beauty)? Though the happy ending is the biggest cliche in the world, some movies not only deserve but earn them. I thought that was certainly the case with WICKER PARK whose happy ending was especially finely realized(as an adult happy ending that doesn’t conflate the happiness of the couple with the wellness of the world; its beauty flows from its loneliness, as if it’s the first happy ending in the history of cinema). And even if an ending isn’t necessarily happy, why not a beautiful or emotionally fulfilling ending, as in LOVE STORY, PAPER CHASE, or DOCTOR ZHIVAGO? In LOVE STORY there is a beautiful closure to Jenny’s death, poetic as it is painful. The death of Zhivago is tragic but perfectly so; it couldn’t be any sadder, and therein lies its grace. And in PAPER CHASE Hart loses faith but gains wisdom. And even though an air of uncertainty hangs over Ben and Elaine in THE GRADUATE, the ending is a real kicker. None of the above can be said for THE APARTMENT whose ending seems almost willfully designed to unsettle, dissatisfy, shock, and even irritate. Was a stubborn European sensibility at work to reject anything like an Hollywood ending? The shock value of the ending seems to be in bad faith, even if the narrative pieces do fall into place in their own fashion; the final picture upon the completion of the puzzle doesn’t satisfy nor resolve our emotions. But if it’s not a happy ending, it can’t exactly be said to be an anti-happy-ending either, one that makes us sad or despairing. Rather, it’s a Strange Ending or Perverse Ending that leaves us not knowing exactly what to think or how to feel, not least because there are so many issues and feelings involved. If the dust finally settles in WICKER PARK to reveal a moment of perfect romanticism, the pieces of THE APARTMENT finally merge only to shatter into a fractured cubism.
Upon further viewings, I’ve come to accept and appreciate the ending of THE APARTMENT as integral to the plot and theme. In a way, it’s befitting that the two films have different endings because there’s a sense in both that life is a game of chance. In other words, Lisa and Max COULD HAVE found each other in THE APARTMENT though they didn’t, and the Lisa and Matthew MIGHT NOT HAVE reunited in WICKER PARK though they did. Though we may regard the endings of both films to have been destined or fated, pervasive throughout is the factor of randomness and accident. (Inherent in both is the sense of randomness as a mathematical principle than just the matter of chaos. There’s both a sense that anything can happen and that hidden laws may govern the characters’ movements. This paradox owes something to the Hitchcock tradition where the element of design bumped against element of chance–also a prominent feature of Kubrick films, albeit in a more philosophical vein.)
So, instead of WICKER PARK being a Hollywood betrayal of THE APARTMENT, it should be seen as a variation. As RUN LOLA RUN demonstrated, life does play dice.
To be sure, the ending of WICKER PARK was probably made ‘happy’ or at least ‘happier’–after all, things don’t work out for everyone, especially Luke who is dumped by Alex–for mostly commercial reasons. Even so, the two films nicely complement one another as variations on the theme of what-could-have-been.
Though WICKER PARK is set in the modern-looking urban environment of Chicago and photographed to look contemporary whereas THE APARTMENT is set in old Paris and visually tinged with nostalgia, the sensibility of WICKER PARK is more traditional and romantic while THE APARTMENT is more modernist.
So, what is the meaning of THE APARTMENT’s ending? For one, it undermines the very notion of emotional certitude(of what we deem True Love to be)it worked so carefully to construct. In WICKER PARK, we sense Matthew’s love for Lisa to be everlasting, whatever the outcome. If love can take the form of spiritual devotion, Lisa is Matthew’s object of worship.
This is an appealing notion of True Love as something pure, something transcending the fickleness of passion. (Passion blinds, fixating one’s emotion on one person.
Though True Love is a form of passion, its value derives from the conceit of having risen above mere obsession, of having gained the view of the forest as well as the tree. One’s devotion is predicated on higher knowledge than seeing reality with blinders on.) But, what is the nature of reality? An average film is 2 hrs yet pretends to peddle eternal truths. 2 hrs can encapsulate 2 years, 2 decades, or 2 centuries, with all the plot elements converging at what amounts to a definitive summation of life. So, if two people embrace at the end in romance movie, we are left with the conclusive sense of the happily-ever-after. (Cinema is appealing for its instant-novel-ness. Because of the richness of expression–image, sound, movement, etc–movies can be as ‘filling’ as novels even if the story and plot details are shorter. One can watch a 3 hr epic and come out feeling as if he’d been through quite a lot–something less likely after three hours of reading. It takes longer to read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY than to watch the film, but Kubrick’s work feels grander. Kubrick’s BARRY LYNDON skims over many of the story elements of Thackeray’s LUCK OF BARRY LYNDON–a long novel requiring several days to finish–but it is no less satisfying. Of course, if the director is a hack and just strings together truncated plot elements from a novel, it’s a disservice to both artforms. Though cinema has been called a total art incorporating elements of painting, photography, drama/theatre, novel, architecture, and music, the importance of poetry to cinema has been underappreciated. If composition in cinema owes something to painting, editing owes something to poetry; editing is more about what is left out than what is added; as with poetry, editing removes non-essentials and matches essential with essential. Given the limited running time of most movies, a poetic sense is crucial even in epics, especially if the movie is based on a long novel. Since a page by page adaptation of DR. ZHIVAGO would run close to 20 hrs, Robert Bolt and David Lean highlighted and knitted the moments best exemplifying life in Russia during the Revolution. Of course, this has long posed a problem for epic filmmakers. Strapped for time but having to convey a lot, their appraoch has been, paradoxically, both poetic and anti-poetic: poetic in the sense of selectively essentializing the narrative and anti-poetic in packing each scene with too many details. DR. ZHIVAGO is a wonderful movie–though some may dismiss it as Russian-Revolution-as-SOUND-OF-MUSIC–, but it, at once, too much and too little. The story has been over-simplified while each moment is saturated with an excess of details, moods, colors, sounds. If the problem of a long novel is it feels like nibbling on appetizers for days on end, the problem of an epic movie is it’s too much like a gut-busting feast.)
But to the extent that movies purport to relate certain truths about life, we should consider the nature of what we refer to as ‘reality’. Movies have only enough time to imagine and connect ‘relevant’ highlights of their characters, with everything else about them left out and/or presumed to be hung up(off screen)with the core conflict of the narrative. Yet, one can argue life is like a movie, at least in the psycho-emotional sense that our mind/memory/desire blurs or edits out most details to focus on things that are most precious/meaningful, replaying certain images, sounds, and episodes, in the process even tuning our senses off to the mundane reality around us.
The style of MULHOLLAND DR. is far from realism, but few films are as psychologically realistic–though maybe one has to be of a certain mentality to appreciate this. Depending on one’s personality, some individuals live for the future while others live in the past–the key difference between Max(future) and Noodles(past)in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Both memories of the past and dreams of the future are psycho-fantastic journeying away from the present, the only true reality there is. Paradoxically, the present, though most real, is also the most elusive and ethereal. At the very least, the past is definitive as what-has-happened, and the future is definitive as what-will-be or what-could-be. As such, both past and future have substance; they function as nouns. The the mechanism of the present is less a noun than a verb for the present is the process whereby the future ceaselessly passes into the past. The present is the invisibly thin line between future and past; in that sense, the present that we see all around us is the process of future fading into the past, the implication of which is the present is a myth we’ve created to find footing in the confusion of time. (Though the past is a matter of what-has-happened, the psychological past can take on the elements of the futuristic what-will-be. In MULHOLLAND DR. Diane Selywn’s use of the past isn’t to recollect what actually happened but to replay/reimagine it as what-should-have-happened. She looks back to look forward.)
In THE APARTMENT, Max, who’d been agonizing over his lost Lisa for two yrs, subtly and then deeply falls for ‘Lisa’–Alice–who becomes the new object of his True Love. I missed this transformation the first time as I watched the film through the prism of WICKER PARK–which made the ending of THE APARTMENT all the more shocking.
Max’s change of heart seems strange since Alice is somewhat plain-faced and can’t hold a candle to the truly beautiful Lisa–it’s Monica Bellucci after all–, but I suppose love can sometimes be blind or blurred; the human heart is a funny pair of eye-glasses. Max senses something sad, vulnerable, and intense about ‘Lisa’, and it tows his affections drift toward her away from the real Lisa. Though he never loses his love for Lisa, he develops a strange devotion to ‘Lisa’. And this turns into a full-blown obsession even after(or perhaps especially because of his)discovering that ‘Lisa’ had been Alice all along. At the point of revelation in a restaurant–similar to the scene in WICKER PARK–, Alice leaves her diary with Max, who later thumbs through its fever-dreamlike passages. Max probably found in Alice a kindred spirit who would do just about anything for love. (In WICKER PARK, Alex gives Matthew the real Lisa’s letter from two yrs ago which she’d withheld to separate Matthew from Lisa.) Apparently, it dawns on Max that Alice loves him as much as anyone could love anyone–indeed, even more he loves Lisa. With Lisa, he had ‘stalked’ her first, and she had grown to like him and then fell in love with him. But he loved her more than she loved him. But Alice’s love was sick to the point of pathological obsession. Freaky yes but touching in a way. It could be Max doesn’t so much fall in love with Alice per se as with her obsession for him, with her totality of devotion–so complete that she was willing to break every rule. Max fell in love with Lisa the person but falls in love with Alice as the personification of obsession, where love and sickness become one and the same. It can be off-putting(not to mention pathetic and even frightening), but it can also be inspiring. Alice, in this sense, is in the tradition of other crazed lovers in French cinema–one thinks of Catherine(Jeanne Moreau) of JULES AND JIM and the deranged heroine of STORY OF ADELE H., both films by Francois Truffaut.
The shift in Max’s romantic fixation violates expectations but not necessarily the ‘logic’ of emotions. While deceptions of others are plainly visible, we are often blind to the extent to which we ourselves are deceptive. Though Max is deceived by Alice and deceives others in his search for Lisa, he falls ‘victim’ to his own deceptive heart. (Even so, there’s a kind of deeper truth in the self-deceptions of both Max and Alice. They lie too casually and don’t honestly face themselves in the mirror, but their deceptions in words and action are motivated by sincere feelings of their hearts. That the truest feelings lead to an excess of
lies–in a world that doesn’t conform to those feelings–is one more paradox of love.) In the end Max loses both Lisa and Alice. He is left with Muriel, the would-be fianceé, who meets him at the airport. For Muriel, it’s as though everything had happened according to plan, with Max having arrived back from Japan. And for Max, it’s as though he dreamt the whole thing. (He’s bound to lose Muriel too when she inevitably finds out he has NOT been in Japan.)
Judging by the look on Alice’s face as she stares at Max–now trapped Muriel’s embrace–for one last time before departing for Rome, it almost feels as though she’d planned everything to end just this way, but of course, it was only the odd symmetries of coincidence.
Alice’s final expression says both nothing and everything. There’s a sense of victory but also generosity, sincerity but also deceit, good-will but also malice. She finally did win Max’s heart, but she dumped him just when he chose her over the dream of his life, Lisa. Did she really dump him or did she let him go? Was it as much or more a self-punishment/atonement(an act of self-denial of what she wants most)than an act of spite against Max? And why should she feel any spite toward Max? Perhaps because he hypocritically condemned her for her deceptions when he too has been living a kind of lie. Or perhaps, Alice finally felt liberated from her obsession when she finally revealed everything to Max; and then, she even won his heart. (Having won him, he is no longer the special prize. It echoes the ending of THE GRADUATE. Benjamin, having won Elaine, is no longer the excited romantic hero. In the film ROSETTA, the troubled girl is obsessed about obtaining a certain job but once she has it, she’s no longer interested. In the film TIME OUT, a French professional prefers to work at looking for work than work at working at work. There could be a gypsy soul in Alice. She’s a natural nomad looking for a place to call home, but once she finds it, she wants to move on in search of new homes. Also, in having transformed herself in emulation of Lisa, she seems to have gained confidence to walk freely into the wide world. She is no longer a passive dreamer but an active doer.) An open obsession is an oxymoron of sorts. Obsession is the dark side of the moon. It is all the more powerful because it’s hidden. Once exposed, it’s bound to evaporate in the light.
The intensity of her love owed to Max having been out of reach. Now that she got to know him, even intimately, he is no longer the object of a great obsession. And perhaps she came to a realization that she has to face up to her lies and grow out of her obsession, and for her to start anew, Max cannot be a part of her life. And in finally rejecting Max when she could have had him, she was demonstrating to Max and herself her own strength, decency, and independence. There is no simple truth or pat emotion to be gleaned from Alice’s final expression, which is why the ending of THE APARTMENT is philosophical than romantic, the case in WICKER PARK. It invites us to ponder the meaning of love, truth, chance, relationship. We tend to BELIEVE when things work out; we tend to THINK when things don’t. We are encouraged to BELIEVE with the ending of WICKER PARK, we are forced to THINK with the ending of THE APARTMENT.
As for Lisa, poor girl. She waited for Max at their long-ago special meeting place, but he never arrived, having run after Alice instead. So, she returns to her apartment where, in the shadows, lurks a man, Daniel, who is obsessively drawn to her. He is the rich middle-aged guy who’s been providing Lisa with the good life, including the posh apartment. Through gifts and favors, one could say he’s been keeping her–rather like Patricia’s Neal’s hold over George Peppard in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S.
To fill in some background, suffice it to say Lisa became estranged from Daniel upon the death of his wife. Lisa suspects he killed her so that he could marry Lisa. (Though we don’t see much of Daniel in either movie, his shadowy presence does add another layer to the theme of obsessions lurking all around us, visible only through side glances. Though Lisa is perturbed by Daniel’s fatal obsession, there’s also an element of appreciation, a recognition that his feelings for her, dark as they may be, are genuine. What is frightful and off-putting about Daniel also serves as a kind of emotinal magnet. Lisa resisted Daniel because he wants to own her, but she also senses he’s a worshipful prisoner of her beauty.)
Possibly, most people would rather be madly loved and desired(as long as they’re not stalked by a murderous psycho)–even if the feelings are not mutual–than be ignored as indeed most of them are. Lisa may be repulsed by Daniel, but she also appears moved in some way, just as Max is inspired by Alice’s love. There is a something of a parallel in their fates in the sense that Max and Lisa end up going, intentionally or accidentally, to the persons–respectively Alice and Daniel–who happen to be most neurotically obsessed with them. The love between Max and Lisa is passionate but not neurotic for it is mutual. Alice and Daniel’s passion for Max and Lisa, on the other hand, is not only powerful and desperate–-as with Max’s search for the lost Lisa-–but neurotic and pathological. Max is beguiled by this crazy love, and Lisa, if not exactly resigned to Daniel’s craziness, retains a certain affection for him. Even if Daniel did indeed kill his wife, he did it for Lisa after all. And when, at the end, Lisa turns around and sees Daniel in her apartment, she smiles as if pleased with his presence, but then, only to be blown up by his double-suicide act of terror(or terromance). Alice betrays Max while Daniel slays Lisa–-and himself. Alice chooses to go off alone while Daniel decides to die with Lisa. In the end, Alice and Daniel get what they want by losing the object of their desire, thereby attaining a kind of liberation. We are never sure if Daniel’s wife was a victim of accident or murder, but this is in keeping with the spirit of the film where chance and mystery are the pervasive features of life.
In a sense, maybe Daniel’s love for Lisa was deeper and truer than Max’s ever was. After all, Max’s supposedly undying love for Lisa was replaced by his love for Alice. Whether Daniel killed his wife or not, the fact remains he is willing to kill himself and Lisa for love. The dark side of love is death. It could be that Daniel, presumably better educated, more cultured, and older, has an appreciation for Lisa far beyond Max’s lover boy crush. She’s not just a great beauty but a work of art, and he’s a very jealous collector. (I wonder if he’s meant to be Jewish.)
Though Lisa is a victim of Alice’s duplicity, there’s also the question, ‘what has she been doing these past two yrs?’ She struck up a relationship with a rich MARRIED man who provided her with fancy living. Though she reviles him for the possible murder of his wife, didn’t she inadvertently play a role in the death–if indeed it was an act of murder–by coming between a man and his wife? Even as everyone in the film is used, exploited, and victimized, none of them is purely innocent. And even if the rich guy Daniel is sick in the head, his self-immolation demonstrates a certain clarity. (While it’s a homicide-suicide in the ritualized form of double suicide, it’s also as if Lisa and he are sacrificial lambs as burnt offerings to the goddess of love.) Though Max lives and Lisa dies, can we say Max is necessarily better off in the end? Max loses both Lisa and Alice and may never know true love again–-like Jules losing both Catherine and Jim and walking away with nothing but memories(in JULES AND JIM, of course). Lisa dies but with a man who truly loves her–and in spectacular fashion. Perhaps, Lucien is the unluckiest of them all. He thinks the burning apartment belongs to Alice. Of course, Alice flew away to a new life, but Lucien will believe she died in the fire for reasons and circumstances beyond his comprehension. On paper it all sounds too much, but it’s brilliantly and breath-takingly handled in the film, perfectly balanced between rushes of excitement and hushes of calculation.
As psychologies of romance, THE APARTMENT and WICKER PARK offer insights into the actual experience of reality. In a way, all lives are obsessive regardless of their passionate involvement or lack thereof with a person or idea. They are obsessed in the sense that all lives are wrapped up in their own flesh & bones, their own limitations. We may not consider daily life an obsession because we take it for granted. But the fact remains that, even on auto pilot, we are obsessed with maintaining ourselves in terms of seeking comfort, staving off hunger, feeling good, looking good. And even if we grow a bit cynical or apathetic, we go on living because we still care and look out for numero uno, which is ‘myself’. Love is an paradoxical phenomenon in the sense that, on the one hand, it breaks us out of our self-obsession and makes us care for something/someone other than ‘myself’, while, on the other hand, making us even more self-obsessed in wanting to possess the object of love for ‘my happiness’. Through love, we learn to care for other people and things, but we also want to lay claim to those people and things for self-fulfilment. In VERTIGO, Scotty(James Stewart) deeply falls in love with Madeline(Kim Novak), feeling a devotion he’d never known in his life. But his willingness to give to and sacrifice for Madeline is matched by his desire to possess her and then to recreate and repossess ‘her’ after she’s dead–-or after he thinks she’s dead.
In WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT, Matthew and Max deeply fall for Lisa. Before discovering there is a miraculous creature named Lisa, the world was an arena of open-ended possibilities for young bachelors such as themselves. They were obsessed, albeit in a casual manner, with their own fun and freedom-–as many young people in the developed world prefer to be, addicted to the dream of everlasting youth that puts off the future as long as possible. But when Max and Matthew catch a glance of Lisa, she isn’t just another possible fling. She is the woman they’d been dreaming of all their lives but didn’t even know. They are transfixed, enchanted, mesmerized. They chase after her like a dream. They grow obsessed with someone other than themselves. Whereas a self-obsessed person may not be aware of his self-obsession/absorption, a person obsessed with another becomes very much aware of his or her obsession with the object of desire who’s out of reach. As a result, obsession with another leads to even greater obsession with oneself. If one is to win the heart of another, one has to be worthy of that love. Mere self-obsession may be gluttonous, seeking immediate pleasure for one’s senses, but obsession with another leads to narcissism, for one has to look good to win the affection of the object of one’s desire. In the wish to look good to the object of one’s desire, one fantasizes about seeing oneself through the eyes of the object of one’s desire; one becomes obsessed with being the kind of person who would be pleasing to the object of one’s desire. Thus, a person who madly falls in love with someone also falls madly in love with oneself as the fantasy object worthy of winning the heart of the object of one’s desire. In this sense, Alice is both the most insecure and also the most narcissistic character in the film. Though she isn’t a natural beauty like Lisa, she WILLS herself to be ‘beautiful’ in her own eyes; this will is so strong that it has an effect on Max. Max may not find her beautiful but he feels her passion to be beautiful.
A happy fatso may enjoy gorging on pizza and hotdogs, but if he falls for a girl, he better start losing weight and start looking in the mirror.
It’s the golden apple out of reach atop the tree that fixes our gaze than the stale ones on the ground, which is why couples who’d united in love lose that love when they come to take each other for granted, almost as an extension of one’s weary self. This may explain why some people develop an obsession against obsession in fear that the things they desire will eventually turn decrepit.
Anyway, there is a twist to Max and Matthew’s obsession with Lisa. Whether one is obsessed with the self or with another, one becomes oblivious and blind to all else. In WICKER PARK, we later learn that Alex had deep yearnings for Matthew EVEN BEFORE he set his eyes on Lisa. (Ironically enough, Matthew got his first look at the mythical Lisa on video from a camcorder brought to the repair shop by Alex, the unwitting matchmaker. It turns out that before Matthew met Lisa, Alex had peeping-tommed and admired the sexy and glamorous Lisa whose apartment window faced hers across the narrow courtyard–homage to REAR WINDOW no doubt–and was most grateful to become a close friend of Lisa, who, unbeknownst to herself, serves as a kind of mentor to Alex in matters of style. There’s a parallel, especially in THE APARTMENT, between Alice and Max’s obsession with Lisa. Alice wants to be like Lisa, or even be Lisa, echoing Bergman’s PERSONA. Max wants to be with Lisa. Though there’s no homoeroticism between Alice and Lisa, one could argue that Alice is in some way more in love with Lisa than Max is. Max wants to hold Lisa whereas Alice wants to merge with Lisa. In THE APARTMENT, both Max and Alice are ‘caught’–at different moments–by Lisa while peeping through her window from the opposite building. Lisa knows she’s blessed with unearthly beauty and feels drawn to people who are drawn to her not just as an object of desire but as an object of worship. Lisa befriends Alice because Alice is her greatest fan. Lisa accepts Max because he appears to be completely head-over-heels over her. She is so confident in her goddess-like beauty that she likes to savor the glory. When Max asks her to move in with him, she doesn’t answer right away but plans to tell him the following day. She wants to stretch out the ‘yes’ to a mythic event. In WICKER PARK, Alex noticed and fell in love with Matthew first but, lacking confidence, only ‘stalked’ without approaching him until finally deciding to do so on the fateful day when Matthew happens to spot Lisa and begins to ‘stalk’ her. It’s kinda funny if you think about it; casualties of love outnumber those of war.) Just as Matthew stalked Lisa before she took notice and accepted his ‘courtship’, Alex had done the same with Matthew except Matthew never took notice of her. Also, whereas Lisa found him attractive and charming enough to reciprocate his love, Matthew probably never noticed Alex because she simply wasn’t his type. Bummer for the girl.
It is unsettling, even creepy, when we learn more about Alex as the third wheel in the story. From the beginning, Matthew’s search for Lisa feeds certain expectations, especially as we are used to the comforting formula of one-true-love-per-movie: the good love of mutual devotion vs the evil desire of jealous destruction(powerfully portrayed by the mad woman in BLACK NARCISSUS; there’s a similar character in UNDER CAPRICORN). Yet in WICKER PARK, we can’t help but feel for Alex as we do for Matthew. Even as we become more anxious for Matthew to find Lisa, we grow closer to Alex’s dream of happiness. Besides, her craziness is partly reflected in Matthew’s crazy search for Lisa. Alex did wicked things but isn’t exactly the wicked witch of fairytales(and even if she is, her story teaches us there may be more to ‘wickedness’ than mere malice; she did it for love, after all; it’s kinda like the lyrics from The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes”: ‘no one knows what it’s like to be hated, to be fated, to telling only lies’).
Though Matthew is repulsed by the revelation, he gains a deeper–and tragic–understanding of love. “Love makes you do crazy things,” Alex says. She acted ‘irrationally’–and even did ‘evil’ things–, but given Matthew’s own mad search for Lisa and the dubious ethics of his methods–ditching the flight to China, lying to his would-be fianceé, trespassing, opening up Daniel’s letter, etc–, he comes to see a part of himself reflected in Alex. And for this reason, he cannot condemn her.
The confrontation/revelation with Alex, set in the restaurant where the story began, is deftly executed. In the air is a mixture of anger, recrimination, remorse, shame, and even a bit of humor as Matthew’s friend Luke happens to be the third party. Luke, who’s dating Alex, has no idea that Alex is ‘Lisa’–if anything, he’d been telling Alex about ‘Lisa’ from what he heard from Matthew–and is therefore puzzled as to the tension between his lover and his friend.
Going back a little, the suspicion that ‘Lisa’ may not be who she claims to be dawned on Matthew only the day before, which hastened him to cancel to flight to China yet again and return to the apartment to check for one last time(to carry out the shoe-size test). Alex has been dating Luke, all the while playing ‘Lisa’ with Matthew. Matthew’s been telling Luke about ‘Lisa’, and Luke’s been telling Matthew about Alex. So, when the three sit together in the restaurant, Luke thinks Matthew and Alex are meeting for the first time.
Anyway, Matthew catches from the encounter a glimpse of the larger or multiple realities–crossings and collisions of passions. And the person who caused him the most grief did it out of extreme love(for him). She had no right to come between Matthew and Lisa, but then romantic love exists outside the realm of rational law.
And again, Matthew wedged himself between Lisa and Daniel as Alex had done between him and Lisa. (One might argue Matthew interjected himself into Lisa’s affairs out of concern for her safety–she sounded troubled in the overheard phone conversation–, but then, his concern was rooted in his undying love.) And even at the airport when he bumps into his would-be fianceé Rebecca, it’s more hurtful for the girl when she learns he’d never really loved her. Love not only makes people do crazy things but cruel things, even inadvertently. There’s a succinctly memorable line by Rebecca:
“Know what, Matthew? That I’m not the girl who can break your heart?” Hers is but a minor role, but her line pierces and bleeds the narrative of yet another emotional stream. She moves out of the picture, but the lash of her anguish lingers; Matthew and we share the sense that finding Lisa is especially to be cherished since it came at such an emotional cost. They’ve both been victims and victimizers. (Similarly, Zhivago’s love for Lara is paradoxically all the more precious for the hurt it causes to his wife Tonya. That he would betray the faithful and loving Tonya for Lara is proof of his mad love for Lara and vice versa.)
Anyway, it is this double- or tripled-layered aspect(and its psychological ramifications)of THE APARTMENT and WICKER PARK that raises them above most genre movies categorized as ‘romance’, ‘mystery’, or ‘drama’. While every movie pulls us into its own version of ‘reality’, it’s usually a singular reality defined by the suspension of our disbelief(or rejection of all other realities). Thus, we exchange our sense of one reality(real reality) for another(movie reality).
WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT don’t so much violate as expand on this rule. They draw us into their ‘realities’ which then unravel into yet more ‘realities’–social, emotional, mythic, psychological–, in the process provoking questions as to the nature of reality itself. THE APARTMENT takes this even into the realm of philosophy.
People are essentially deceptive and repressed(and repressing)characters and indeed must be for the sake of maintaining order and civility. Otherwise, we become like crazy Negroes who act like wild apes. When it comes to sexual desire, animals have few inhibitions. Insects have their frenzied mating calls, birds show off colors, males of many species openly battle for the right to mate, and etc. Humans, with the possible exception of Negroes, search for love in a different way, at least among civilized cultures.
Since people cannot get what they want by acting like animals, everyone learns to calculate their chances of romantic/sexual success before making the move. So, even if a thousand guys may drool over a beautiful woman, most will pretend not to notice. It’s like Charlie Brown who never goes up to the Little Red-Haired Girl. Not everyone is like Lucy who pushes herself on Schroeder.
Given that most people aren’t dashingly handsome or dropdead gorgeous, they are not objects of romantic obsession, but as the saying goes, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Different people become obsessed with different persons. But in most cases, the romantic feelings are held back due to the shyness or fear of being rejected. Love is also a touchy subject because it involves the element of sex. If a guy tells another guy, “I love ya, man”, he means “you’re a great friend” and that’s that–unless he’s a homo. But if a guy professes his love for a woman even in the most gentlemanly way possible, it usually boils down to “I wanna have sex with you.” As such, romantic love may be what people feel most but express the least.
Anyway, going back to the encounter in the restaurant, it is a bang-zoom moment of revelation, one that upends our assumed laws of emotional gravity. Earlier in the movie, Matthew accidently barged in on ‘Lisa’ in ‘her’ apartment, but it turns out she had trespassed into his life, even taking on the name, scent, compact, and clothes of the real Lisa. Matthew had felt the world as revolving around the love between him and Lisa, but he’d been caught in Alex’s orbit all along.
In a way, Matthew too is a Lisa; he is to Alex what Lisa is to him, which may explain why ‘Alex’, generally a male name, was given to a female character. (It might also be a play on ‘Alice’ and ‘Max’ in the original.)
In the confrontation-resolution scene in the restaurant, we are initially sympathetic with Matthew, finally glad to see Alex exposed for what she is–-a witch pretending to be a princess. We root for Matthew to expose her phony self. But, her turning-the-tables, morally suspect though it may be, confronts us with a certain psychological truth, even an element of poetic justice. Matthew nursed a long and lonely love for Lisa, willing to do anything to regain her love, and, in a way, Alex represents the dark figure lurking behind his psychological mirror. Consider a
two-way mirror that allows person A to gaze at his own reflection while person B standing behind the mirror sees person A looking into the mirror. It’s as though Matthew stared long and hard at his own yearning reflection while Alex, from the other side, gazed at him gazing at his own obsession. And to the extent that we identified with and rooted for Matthew through his ethically dubious adventures implicates us too in the ‘crime of passion’.
Both THE APARTMENT and WICKER PARK have become cult movies, understandable since films serve as projections of secrets desires. Movies generally give us open fantasies: guns and cars, babes and studs, spaceships and monsters. Open fantasies are public and shared, and we enjoy them as an audience. But there are things, the private fantasies, that we hold in our hearts. Sexual fantasies are not necessarily private though sex is experienced privately(in most cases anyway); your average romance story or porn provides generic fulfilment or satisfaction; they are about bodily types or popular archetypes. There isn’t anything particularly private or personal about the fantasy of being carried away by some big-chested hunk on a pirate ship or having a cum-splattered orgy. They are only private as in behind-closed-doors or in-the-land-of-desire but are essentially shared or interchangeable fantasies. It’s no secret that millions of women swoon over Fabio.
But some desires are secretive and private in that their meaning and beauty reside within a particular or eccentric heart. For example, the oddball friendship in HAROLD AND MAUDE only makes sense between Harold and Maude. In VERTIGO, Scottycannot share or discuss his obsession with anyone. It’s purely between him and Madeline, and the perverse power of the movie derives from our sense of peeking into the most private–and even embarrassing–of personal desires. It’s as if Scotty creates a goddess who is to be known and worshiped by none other than him. Even when he remakes the brunette(he picked up on the street) into the new Madeline, she’s to know as little about his true motivations. The secret remains between him and the mythic Madeline. (Of course, the brunette knows all about Scotty and Madeline–since she was ‘Madeline’, just as Alex knows all about Matthew and Lisa.)
If we collectively watch most movies as a captivated audience, some movies make us–or more precisely, you or me–feel as if you or I am eavesdropping or peeping in on innermost secrets of personal lives–and then via identification, as though secrets on the screen are mythic projections of your or my own secrets. These special films, rather than projecting our collective fantasies, reflect one’s private secrets–or what one would like to hold believe is his or her own secret; thus, such films are more like dreams(private) than fantasies(collective). To the extent that this ‘secret’ desire is idealized–handsome Stewart and Hartnett & beautiful Novak and Kruger in VERTIGO and WICKER PARK–, it is not without an element of public or collective fantasy.
Someone watching VERTIGO may feel “it’s MY movie”, something he may not feel watching STAR WARS or SAVING PRIVATE RYAN–or even CASABLANCA. Cult Movie Communities are paradoxically a coming together of asocial types who generally cannot stand most people, not least one another. Because each cultist lays claim to a particular movie as his or her own, he or she sees a ‘fellow’ cultist as a potential rival. There is something of Norman Bates(PSYCHO)in every cultist, a secret desire to be rid of the competition for the affection of the Cult Movie. Even so, cult communities exist because even, or especially, asocial types need company too. To be sure, we should draw a distinction between collective cult movies like the awful ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW and private cult films like the priceless HAROLD AND MAUDE. ROCKY HORROR fans gathered in the realm of festive bacchanalia whereas HAROLD AND MAUDE fans found themselves together in the realm of dream poetics. ROCKY HORROR wanted to be with the tribe whereas HAROLD AND MAUDE fans really wanted to be alone in the theater. (The strange magic of both E.T. and A.I. derives from their fantasies being both open/public and private/lonely. Kids don’t just respond to E.T. as OUR friend but MY special secret friend. We don’t just see the kid in A.I. as a robot but a very special and lonely robot. Indeed, the tragedy of David in A.I. is he was manufactured for generic ownership but programmed for private devotion.)
We tend to think of love as embracing and inclusive, but the love that counts most, romantic love, may be the most exclusive of all emotions. One’s love for another may blind him or her–or obligate him or her to be blind–to the beauty others.
In the field of politics, every side frames the debate in terms of LOVE AND HATE, with ‘our’ side standing for love and the other side standing for hate. Especially the Left is busy defining ‘hate’ as purely a right-wing phenomenon. The Left may be correct that there is more hate on the right, at least in the sense that the right is more honest about human nature–humans are tribal animals. At any rate, political conflicts are less about Love vs Hatred than competing and incompatible loves. Jews love the Holy Land and so do the Palestinians. It’s not like Jews are for Love and Palestinians are for Hate, or vice versa. Rather, both sides have different visions, versions, and interpretations of their Love and Attachment to the Holy Land, and thus, hatred flares up between the friction of the two competing loves and turns into violence. Same could be said for the struggle for the Southwest Territories. While patriotic Americans hate La Raza ideology and activists, this is not because Americans automatically want to hate Mexicans. It’s because the La Raza agenda seeks to destroy what is loved by Americans–the idea that the SW territories are a sacred part of the US.
And as much as we hate La Raza, one could argue that its main motivation is not hatred for the gringo but love of Mexico or Brown Identity. If this love identifies gringo ‘imperialists’ as the main obstacle to Mexican greatness, unity, and power, it will naturally come to hate White America. So, there is love and hate on both sides. Each side has its own kind of love at loggerheads with other kind of love, and when love clashes with love, it leads to hate. Similarly, both Christians and Muslims love God–perhaps the same God–, but both sides claim a deeper kind of love. So, it’s ridiculous for leftist Jews to smear only the White Right with ‘hatred’ while the Left and Non-Whites are portrayed as crusaders of Love.
To be sure, the nature of Leftist hatred is different from rightist hatred; leftist hatred targets rightist tribal hatred that rejects the notion of universal brotherhood and sisterhood of all men and women. Rightists love to hate whereas leftists hate to hate and so limit their hate to those who hate, the rightists. In other words, Nazism was an ideology that hated or despised non-Aryans whereas communism embraced all humans as comrades. Whereas Nazis hated non-Aryans, communists didn’t hate ‘Aryans’ or Germans but only the ideology of hatred that gripped the German nation under Nazism. There is some truth to such an argument. Nazis regarded Russians as less than human. Russian communists, though brutal and ruthless, never regarded Germans–or other ethnic groups–as less than human. Nazis hated Russians as a race. Soviets hated Nazi Germans for their ideas but not for their Germanness. Ideas can be changed, races cannot. Once Germans dropped radical racism, they were accepted as fellow comrades by the Soviets. But Nazis, had they defeated Russia, would have treated Russians as subhuman cattle even if every Russian was willing to adopt Nazi ideology. Russians were deemed racially inferior, worthy only to be slaves or shot dead. In this sense, one could argue that there can be more of an extreme kind of hatred on the Right than on the Left. And indeed, there is nothing more dangerous than rightist imperialism, as opposed to rightist nationalism. It would have been one thing for German chauvinists to be arrogant and intolerant in their own country. But when they invaded other countries, German chauvinism crushed the hopes, dreams, and prides of other peoples and cultures.
But Leftism can be hateful in its own way, destroying cultures and traditions in the name of creating an one world utopia. And in its ‘scientific’ arrogance, its proponents may feel justified in killing any number of people in the name of ‘progress’ and common good. Worse, through its conviction of changing human nature and creating New Man–which can only be permanently accomplished genetically, not socially or culturally–leftism may recklessly bring together large numbers of incompatible cultures and races, leading eventually to violence and war amongst them. It is blind leftist ideology which encourages and/or tolerates increasing numbers of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East to Europe in the conviction that all races are the same other than for skin color and that all cultures are equally valuable. What will the end result of all this be? It could well be something more horrible than if the Nazis had won.
The most significant difference between THE APARTMENT and WICKER PARK could the contrast between Alice and Alex. Alex, though unapologetic to Matthew in the confrontation scene, doesn’t justify what she did. She feels genuinely remorseful. Though wanting Matthew to understand her motives, she decides to come clean; she calls Lisa(who is at the airport)and makes a full confession. Alex ultimately strikes us as a normal person who, wanting to be something different, went kinda crazy–especially after falling for Matthew. Though naturally an introvert, her dream was to be an actress, a vocation calling for an extrovert personality. Though somewhat mousy and passive, she wanted to be the object of admiration and desire. And indeed we see in Alex(of the present)a dramatic will to be sexy and stylish that wasn’t evident earlier(two yrs ago). (This is somewhat similar to Diane Selwyn becoming Betty Elms in MULHOLLAND DR. except that while the transformation happens entirely in Selwyn’s mind, Alex really plays out her fantasies in life. Handled in a different way, it could have been a comedy, like the various scenarios of THREE’S COMPANY or TOOTSIE.) Though Alex did indeed take on a new and more confident persona, we can’t help feeling it’s only a surfeit beneath which remains the older and truer Alex, the passive, shy, and vulnerable young woman.
The same cannot be said of Alice of THE APARTMENT. Though initially shy and awkward, she genuinely grows confident, feisty, and assertive. And we don’t discern anything resembling remorse in the confrontation scene. Indeed, she seems almost triumphant about her deed. Though initially a pitiable slave of love, she becomes not only its master but the one who comes out on top.
Generally, a movie inspired by Hitchcock will involve a murder or something sinister, which is true enough for THE APARTMENT where Daniel–the rich lover of Lisa–plays a significant role. But nothing really freaky happens(or happened)in WICKER PARK; the mystery was really just a state of mind triggered by an intrigue that really wasn’t. Of course, Matthew breaks out of the routine(and evades his business trip) and gets caught up in a maze of sorts, but the story unfolds as lives-as-lived than fates-as-plotted(as in Hitchcock thrillers). It feels like our world than a genre world, as though reality is complicated by a series of accidents and misread signals than by some sinister conspiracy–either of individuals, gods, or the universe.
WICKER PARK has elements of mystery without really being a mystery. Mysteries require not only careful constructions of the plot but the feeling of foreordainment. Mystery stories don’t evolve as much as follow the dictates of an hidden intelligent design. WICKER PARK, based on THE APARTMENT, has an intricate and even elegantly formulated plot, but there is also a pervasive sense of everyday reality. It’s as though Matthew and ‘Lisa’ are playing a game of mystery than living in a full-time one.
Even with everything finally falling into place, the prevailing sense is the haphazardness of life. We feel as though things complicated not by design but by accidents and complications, with Alex desperately improvising to make the best of shifting situations. She did pull a bold little trick to keep Matthew and Lisa apart, but she had no idea nor intention of things turning out the way they did. Alex may be devious but cannot be said to be sinister. And even her feelings for Matthew finally strikes us as more ridiculous than dark(as in BLUE VELVET). (THE APARTMENT is markedly different even in mood. The very look, texture, and plot of THE APARTMENT are more stylized, justifying the borderline-suspense ending.)
We go to movies to escape from reality, to lose ourselves in or to be jolted by something out of the ordinary–murder, crime, occult, conspiracy, fantasy, etc. (There’s a paradox here because even as we want fantasy to be wilder or more extreme than reality, we want it to be less chaotic as well. Outlandish, strange, and extraordinary things happen in movies but within genre perimeters and rules. A kung fu master may kill a hundred people in a single fight, but the action conforms to audience expectation of the invincible hero destroying the bad guys. Fantasies are, in this sense, both crazier and more predictable than reality.) Then, the strange moody impact of WICKER PARK is all the more remarkable for nothing truly bizarre happened in the story. Basically, Alex told a lie and then followed up on it two years later with a series of desperate improvisations(ranging from half-baked to inspired), ultimately getting caught in her own web.
It’s reminiscent of the Carol Reed movie FALLEN IDOL where a man’s silly fictions told for amusement to a child becomes something else in the impressionable and imaginative young mind. Though WICKER PARK is about adults in love–and even involves a bit of sex–, it’s as though the lies told by Alex–and by Matthew–were intended to fool the child within every heart of every adult that still clings to self-deceiving fairy tales; consider the allusion to Cinderella in the motif of the shoes.
WICKER PARK is really about the dream realm of the heart. In actual terms, Matthew merely stays in Chicago and looks for Lisa, in the process hanging with his friend Luke and becoming acquainted with Alex pretending to be ‘Lisa’. No one died, there was no evil plan, nothing blew up. Yet Matthew entered a different dimension, and everything changed.
For the duration of his search for Lisa, Matthew would have appeared to other busybodies as just another urbanite going about his business–just as Alex had once been just another blurred non-person in the street to Matthew though her life was changed by him when she fell in love with him(at first sight).
(The strange thing is about love is you can profoundly do things to people by doing nothing at all, indeed even if you never noticed their existence. When Matthew fell for Lisa, Lisa had no idea what she’d done–because she’d done nothing at all. Just by being beautiful, she was noticed by Matthew and changed his life. And Matthew unknowingly changed Alex’s life just because she caught a glimpse of him walking down the street one day and instantly felt for him. In LOVE STORY, Jenny says, “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It could also be said “love means never having to do anything to drive people crazy.” There’s also an element of IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE in WICKER PARK. Remember George Bailey thought he made no difference to Bedford Falls before Clarence showed him otherwise. WICKER PARK involves just a handful of characters, but there’s the sense that individuals could have far greater impact on lives around them than they could possibly think. Perhaps the most perfect metaphor of the tragedy of love is the scene where Zhivago dies while Lara walks away unawares. Love can be most cruel in the imbalance of feelings/knowledge between two people. In the case of DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, the love was mutual but the circumstances of the political upheaval stood maze-like between them.)
We see faces all around but can’t read the hearts. (Consider the significance of the beginning where Matthew and Luke recognize one another in a crowd of people. In a city of millions, a mere handful of people–friends, lovers, and family–have a place in one’s heart. In the next scene, Matthew is at a business lunch, soon to be joined by his would-be-fiancee Rebecca; the convergence of love and business in one setting suggests his feelings for her are diplomatic than romantic; he may like her through his eyes but not through his heart–at least as long as there’s any chance of him finding Lisa. Rebecca is not the ‘woman who can break his heart.’) Matthew reminds us of the Tom Cruise character in EYES WIDE SHUT, another lost soul in the big city, tracking a mystery that may indeed be far simpler than what he imagines. But if EYES WIDE SHUT is sufficiently outlandish to engage us on the level of intrigue and mystery, WICKER PARK really boils down to the question of love. The problem is love, no matter how true and sincere, can turn neurotic, even poisonous, if unrequited or unresolved. If ‘love makes you do crazy things’, then people in love must feel crazy things. Or maybe it’s the opposite: instead of purity turning poisonous, it could be poison seeking purity. Even poison weeds bloom into flowers after all.
Few movies captured the various aspects of love–neurotic, sad, beautiful, sickly–with the poetry and economy of WICKER PARK. VERTIGO and MARNIE present dark beautiful stories but as mythic tales than anything resembling reality. They are grand psychathedrals of Freud and Sin unfolding in the gilded pantheons of the mind. WICKER PARK, on the other hand, feels like a story in our world. It has elements of fancy and weirdness but is neither a fairytale(PRETTY WOMAN) nor a noir with archetypal characters. THE APARTMENT, on the other hand, mainly due to its visual style and twisted ending, has more of a noir feel.
As is often the case, the better directed and more stylized film, THE APARTMENT, focuses our attention more on technique, plot, and meaning whereas the visually more conventional WICKER PARK draws us closer to the characters. Thus, the loss is also a gain for WICKER PARK. Kubrick’s EYES WIDE SHUT is a directorial masterwork far exceeding WICKER PARK in terms of film-making, yet I prefer the latter’s quiet intimacy. Sometimes, the human element can be reduced to pawn-like insignificance under the overbearing directorial will–consider some of the two-dimensional characters of LOLA MONTEZ(by Max Ophuls) and MR ARKADIN(by Orson Welles). The characters in WICKER PARK feel closer than the counterparts in THE APARTMENT.
The same goes for TV mini-series such as FORSYTE SAGA or TINKER, TAILER, SOLDIER, SPY. Though hardly directorial or visual landmarks, they offer ample room for actors to explore their characters. In contrast, BARRY LYNDON is great to look at and has impeccable performances, but everything and everyone down to the last detail feel completely controlled. We don’t really get a sense of life outside the directorial will or command. Even allowing this was Kubrick’s intention, it’s like a grand feast where all the dishes are served cold.
Though WICKER PARK is not among the most brilliant movies ever made, it certainly isn’t hackwork either–and even has stretches of brilliance that outshine certain aspects of the French original. (In any case, WICKER PARK is a clear demonstration that the story concept and writing are as important as directing. VERTIGO is better than MARNIE due to its superior story and screenplay.) There are moments when the mood is captured perfectly, with just the right touch. Even if the director Paul McGuigan is not a master, he’s clearly a student of masters.
The main problem with WICKER PARK is the sometimes over-eager and ultimately wobbly attempts to convey extreme emotional states with gimmicky visual effects, but even this is relatively muted compared to most movies; and sometimes, it half-works.
Though BLADE RUNNER is a work of science fiction heavy on special effects, some of its best moments rely on mood and ambiance: when characters ponder or sort through their feelings. In those moments–of urban loneliness, murmurs of love, alienation and anxiety–, BLADE RUNNER is less about the future or changes wrought by time than the infinite intimacy of the lone self in opposition to the world. (One reason for BLADE RUNNER’s failure at the box office was, I suspect, its being BOTH more and less of what people expect from sci-fi. Some of its emotions are too life-like, perhaps even more real than real. Instead of carrying the audience away toward escapist fantasy, it turned them toward themselves. A.I. is another movie that ostensibly takes us far into the future only to turn our gaze back at ourselves.) Time changes the world, but the nature of time remains the same. To live in the world means to know change. To live within time is to know eternity. Living in the world, we actively interact with the effects–construction and erosion–wrought by time. When we pull away from the world and enter into our own selves, we stop ‘doing'(or interacting) and start ‘being'(or inner-acting), and it is then we experience time not as an agent but as an essence. It is when we pull away from the world that we no longer feel neither so young nor old, not so ‘here’ as opposed to ‘there’; the borders between the chapters of our lives start to dissolve; distant memories meld with recent events and everything in between. It’s the difference between sailing on the water and submerging into the water. On the surface, water takes us from place to place, each distinct from the other. Beneath the surface, there is only water whose essence is the same regardless of where we are.
NY is different from Chicago, and Matthew was separated from Lisa by both distance and time, but Matthew submerged in thoughts of Lisa in NY is the same as Matthew submerged in thoughts of Lisa in Chicago. Again, there are two facets to time: time as agent and time as essence. Time as agent is pro-active and constantly shifts our place and purpose in the world. We try to use it to our advantage, but it has its own agenda in shaping everything with which it comes in contact. Lisa and Matthew were tripped up by the pro-active time(especially as reset by Alex), and time acts as their nemesis almost to the end when they’re finally reunited. But there’s another kind of time, reflective time, one that melts distances between periods and persons, one that lends hope of restoration or reunification. Reflective time could be just an illusion, a personal opiate, as in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. It could also function as a mode of revenge as in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST where Chaney(Bronson)relives the memory his brother’s murder at the hands of Frank(Fonda). The appeal of Christianity owes something to its conceptualization of time: it’s as if all of history since the time of Jesus has been part of an eternal unity. Through all the rises and falls of kingdoms, dynasties, and empires, there remains the constant notion of salvation through the love of Christ. In this sense, Jesus’s greatest triumph was not over the Jews, Romans, or even Satan but over the pro-active agent of time. Not for nothing was water, as a metaphor for time, used so powerfully by the Christian film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. The water imagery in his films suggest everything must and will dissolve into the realm of eternal time; his very artistic approach was as if conceived spiritually; he even wrote a book called ‘Sculpting in Time’.
The longevity of Egyptian civilization may also owe something to its profound understanding of time. More than any other civilization, Egyptians pondered the the dual nature of time. This may have owed to their dependence on the Nile; a great river has often served as a lesson on the nature of time. Also, western side of the Nile tended to be harsh and dry, a place for burying the dead, whereas the eastern side of the river tended to be fertile and sustaining of life. So, the river functioned as a kind of a dividing mirror between life and death, as a lesson on the interdependence of the two realms that were, at once, separated and united by the river of time. It’s as if Egyptians, in their great wisdom, sensed death in life and life in death; saw night in day and day in night. Their deep sense of ‘being’ may have calmed their impulses, made them more patient and attuned to the ideal of eternal truth. There was some of this too in the civilization that grew up along the Ganges river. The downside of such civilization was the danger of rigid conservatism or passive resignation; indeed, it would be the impatient and dynamic Greeks who would trigger events and innovations that would change the world–though some may argue not really for the better.
The element of time is also essential to Buddhism. The path to Nirvana requires one to remove oneself from pro-active time(that interacts with the world)into the realm of time-as-essence whereby one becomes aware of ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Once a person is liberated from ‘doing’ and contemplates the ‘being’, he may then be able to move from ‘being’ to non-being, which is Nirvana.
Though WICKER PARK isn’t a spiritual movie, there is an element of worship and prayer in Matthew’s love for Lisa. Finding Lisa is his personal nirvana, his salvation(and maybe redemption in case it was something he’d done that drove Lisa away). To find her, he must first remove himself from the world of pro-active time of ‘doing’ and submerge into a reflective time of ‘being’, from where he can gather his thoughts/feelings and come to terms with what he wants from life.
It could be the tragedy of human life is we are all too capable of sensing infinitude but alas trapped in the finite. Unlike animals, we can conceive of time as a million yrs ago or millions yrs in the future. Religions and the science of man have contemplated the beginning and the ending of time. Yet, each of us, capable of godly imagination, is trapped in a life that isn’t much longer than that of apes.
There are moments of pensive melancholy in WICKER PARK, like hangovers from the drug of love that won’t go away. Many critics praised Wong Kar Wai’s IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and 2046 for their lush saturated style, but I found them superficial and pointless–more fashion show than love story–, rather like watching fingernail polish dry. The characters were part of the wallpaper of makeups, period tunes, and fashions. All eyes and no heart. If conflict is the heart of drama/storytelling, characters shouldn’t be part of the prop. Similarly, LOLA MONTEZ showcases awesome film-making as spectator art but reduces the story and characters to a flea-circus. WICKER PARK is rich in style and a kind of perfumed frenzy, but the characters also break through the mist and assert their individuality.
Love is, by nature, trance-like, a kind of an opiate. It’s no wonder that Noodles in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA smokes the opium pipe, returning to his dreams of Debra. If longing is central to love, what better way than through fantasy and dreams. But the dream of love can make one lose the object of love. Some may prefer just that, favoring the golden mirage of ideal beauty that never ages over the actual entity that withers and dies. (More accurately, the memory is aged without aging, an eternal twilight preserving the light of the day while staving off the night.)
And there is a sense in WICKER PARK that Matthew is as romantically fixated with the absence of Lisa as with the possibility of finding her again; the absence allows her to be imagined as an essence. This may be even more acute in THE APARTMENT. It could be one reason for Max’s running to Alice than to Lisa was the desire to preserve Lisa as a matter of the heart than reunite with her as a matter of fact. You can’t go home(or to the apartment)again.
The separation from Lisa was a curse but also a blessing in a way. The bittersweet aging of love deepened Matthew’s feelings. They might have lived ‘happily ever after’ if everything had gone well, but it’s the anguished sense of betrayal and sadness that layers their feelings with tragic beauty–and it is the search that adds a mythic/heroic dimension to Matthew’s passion. They only knew bliss in their first embrace. In their embrace at the airport, there’s an appreciation of the deeper meaning of love: the resilience of emotions amid the fragility of fate.
It’s through their separation that Matthew truly comes to find Lisa as opposed to merely winning her. It’s almost like Orpheus retrieving Eurydice from the dark world.
Our lives progress according to schedules, and our sense of reality corresponds to routines and repetitions. We are supposed to be at work, at church, with family, with friend, and etc along established social patterns. Work time or free time, we live according to cycles of expectations and obligations. Even when we rest or play–act ‘freely’–, it’s on designated days(usually weekends)or during vacation time. We think in terms of ‘when supposed to work’ and ‘when supposed to play’. There’s even an element of shame associated with people who violate this principle; a rich young man who spends all his time playing golf and lazing about a swimming pool doesn’t get much respect; he’d be regarded as a bum. Or, a man like Scrooge, who cannot even rest on Christmas, is seen as abnormal. The moralization of time may have been strengthened by Jewish culture with its concept of the Sabbath; there’s time to work hard and there’s time when all good Jews MUST rest(or else).
And so, things feel strange when we move out of this cycle–it’s almost like taking a strange drug. Consider CATCHER IN THE RYE whose weirdness owes largely to the fact that Caulfield isn’t where he should be. Having flunked out, he’s in a nowhere zone between home and school, unable to return to either; he is an exile of sorts, alone with himself in the big city. The weird vibe of LAST DETAIL also owes to Nicholson and his sailor buddies breaking away from obligations and running wild for a few days. In THE GRADUATE, Benjamin Braddock puts off the future and finds himself moodily adrift. And in John Cassavetes’ HUSBANDS, the death of a friend serves as a catalyst for three middle aged men to be ‘free’ once again. And in LOST IN TRANSLATION, the Bill Murray character reclaims some of his youthful flare, which he passes on, in whisper and kiss, to a young woman who has yet to find herself. (In a way, watching a movie is a breaking away from routines and obligations; it is a form of escapism; we neglect what we should be doing, which is living life. Paradoxically, we are drawn to the fictions and myths to feel more alive, to feel ‘real feelings’ missing in our lives. But then, what is ‘life’ really? Couldn’t one argue everything in life a kind of distraction from the deeper truth? According to Buddhism, attachment to life is itself a form of illusory escapism from the truth. For most people, life means a set of priorities–business before pleasure and all that. In the modern world, most of us may be too enamored with art, entertainment, clubbing, ideology, politics, and change to give much thought to the timeless question of the real purpose and processes of life. We’ve lost our sense of place in the cycles of life and death, indeed almost to the point where we see ourselves as products of the creative spark than participants in the procreative thread. Given the mechanization and sterilization of modern life shielding us from blood, puss, and death, we may even lose sight of our flesh-and-bone-bess.)
In WICKER PARK, Matthew skips going to China and plays hooky from work. That in itself makes the film feel strange, as though Matthew stepped inside a time machine or a parallel-universe-machine. Physically and emotionally, he’s ‘here’ when he should be ‘there’, at least by conventional rules of conduct. But something inside him says he should be ‘here’ than ‘there’, and so he dwells in Chicago or, more precisely, a Chicago-where-he-shouldn’t-be. By the very fact of his violation of time and space, the story turns into a kind of an espionage tale; Matthew becomes a spy of the heart. We sense his guilt from dereliction of duty but also a sign of liberation. Anyone who skipped a day of school understands this feeling. A violation of personal and professional responsibility perhaps but also a kind of holy quest to pursue one’s dream.
The plot of WICKER PARK and THE APARTMENT pretty much begins and ends at an airport, and it’s worth considering the significance of airports in fiction and life. From a young age, airports had a strange–one might even say mythic–hold over me. Just imagine, from airport to airport, in an airplane through vast cloudy skies, you could be transported from one world to another. To a child for whom distant lands loom infinite and mysterious–and to whom even a nearby town or city is a strange world indeed–, an airport is almost an fantastic place. A child grows up gazing at armadas of clouds in wishful wonderment, intuiting their inaccessibility. So, how awesome for a child not only to travel but to travel to another part of the world, which for her IS another world. Memories of flying from Tennessee to Hawaii when I was eight still retain their mythic aura.
The airport also has a special meaning as a place of reunion, where long-departed people meet once again with new appreciation. (Though Matthew didn’t go to China and was in Chicago all along–as was Lisa–, his reunion with Lisa feels as though they’d both traversed across vast distances.)
And airports also become landmarks of one’s biography by serving as departure points to a new life. Students fly off to college. Immigrants fly to a new country. The airport is both the last thing they see of their old country and the first thing they see of their new country.
Though flying around the world is routine for business travelers, there remains an element of special privilege; it sure beats driving around or sitting in windowless office all year.
Flying in an airplane is still the most awesome technological experience accessible to most people. Though the airport has become a democratic place for people all around the world, there are air travelers and then there are air travelers. The prestige of flying still owes to its power of carrying us to dream destinations. When visualizing hyper-modernity, skyscrapers and airports still dominate the imagination.
In BLADE RUNNER, the superrich and ultra-powerful rule from above, places accessible by flying cars. And people with means appear to be journeying to other parts of the galaxy. Wanderlust has always been at the core of human psyche.
But like a cat simultaneously wanting to be outside and inside, we want both roots and to roam. Distant lands hold a mythic appeal, but in our travels we think of home/ thus, home too becomes mythic, a personal Eden. Those who can’t leave home feel trapped–George Bailey in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE–, and those who can’t return home feel exiled–Noodles of ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.
The New World was discovered by people with profound wanderlust. Some, especially missionaries, sought new lands to settle and new peoples to convert. Others found in new lands/cultures the chance of losing themselves to mysticism or exoticism/eroticism–like the mutineers led by Mel Gibson in THE BOUNTY. Some sought the fountain of youth, others the city of gold.
The world is profoundly smaller now, but the thrill of travel and discovery remains when we enter an airport. Harbors probably had a similar hold on people’s imagination in the age of oceanic voyages, and perhaps train stations–once elaborately designed and built–held a similar fascination in the 19th and early 20th century.
Airports not only take us to distant places but often feature the most technologically advanced architecture of a city or nation. Even some decrepit Third World countries have airports that look very much like ones in the First. Airports, serving as the main gate of entry in many nations, are designed to impress. In the West and developed East, airports almost resemble futuristic sci-fi sets. It’s no wonder then that the greatest sci-fi film, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY has a long space travel scene that feels very much like air travel.
The 1960s, the age of affluence and 007, had a special fascination with air travel and airports. THE GRADUATE, perhaps the decade’s defining movie, began on an airplane and at an airport. The film’s mood of melancholy derives from Benjamin Braddock’s descent from the heaven of youth to the ground of adulthood. He lost his wings. Upon landing, he is carried along on a conveyor like a piece of machinery on an assembly line. Exiled from youth, his personal will is powerless against time. Resistance is futile.
The airport also has significance in KICKING AND SCREAMING(Noah Baumbach) and STRANGER THAN PARADISE(Jim Jarmusch). The cultural significance of the airport was perhaps best conveyed in Chris Marker’s classic sci-fi film LA JETEE, also a love story that begins and ends at an airport. Spielberg later took this to extremes with THE TERMINAL, an engaging movie nonetheless.
The airport has a special place in romance because it’s often how lovers meet and/or separate–consider the final scene of NOBLE HOUSE. We are familiar with movie image of a woman running after a man departing on a train. Today, dramatic separations and encounters happen via air travel.
Airport is the terminal of modern life, emotionally as well as physically, through which a chapter of one’s life ends or starts anew. It is a place associated with joy and sadness, with life and death. High up in the air one feels both powerful and powerless.
Even after all these years, there is something unreal about flight, which feels more like fantasy than physical travel. One smoothly gets on an airplane, relaxes as the airplane tunnels through the sky, and effortlessly walks into a different world several hours later. So much distance traveled with so little sweat. There’s a meditative element, as if the soul has hitched a ride above/around the world, later to be reattached to the body upon landing. It is, at once, awesome and numbing to one’s senses.
The final setting of the airport terminal renders the encounter between Lisa and Matthew all the more moving. At last and in quiet embrace, they find ‘home’ while strangers walk past like an endless flurry of snowflakes.
Of course, the significance of the airport is somewhat different in THE APARTMENT. In WICKER PARK, O’Hare airport goes from abyss to oasis. In THE APARTMENT, Max and Lisa don’t reunite. Max runs to the airport to embrace Alice while Lisa goes back to the apartment where a jealous lover awaits in the shadow. The airport becomes an alienating and depersonalizing place where destinies come apart. Max runs into Alice’s arms, but Alice tricks him and takes off alone. Max is then met by fianceé(who thinks he just returned from Japan). Max loses both Lisa and Alice.
Max must feel like Aesop’s dog that barked at its own reflection, losing both the bone and its reflection. It’s like a double coitus interruptus. The airport in THE APARTMENT represents glass-walled modernity without loyalties and boundaries.
As for Lisa, she returns to her posh old-fashioned French apartment after Max doesn’t show up. It feels like the heart of France than the hubbub of the world. If Alice leaves Max and France for the wider world, Lisa’s very French lover pursues her to the end in the apartment.
Now, some notes and observations about WICKER PARK.
1. The splintered visuals of the title sequence suggest a world refracted through crystals, and the first scene has Matthew looking at engagement rings in a jewelry shop. This has double significance: the price and the multifaceted-ness of love, later also conveyed through various mirrors throughout the movie.
2. In the first restaurant scene, Rebecca slips Matthew sleeping pills to help him relax during his flight. Love is like a drug, and what unfolds thereafter is like a hallucination(more so in THE APARTMENT).
3. Matthew is to catch a flight to China(and Max to Japan). Asia symbolizes both traditionalism(social conventions)–Matthew’s obligation toward Rebecca and his job–and exotic mysticism–I Ching, astrology, superstitions of chance and fortune, and the like.
4. The telephone booth where Lisa’s perfume lingers is like an opium den or time machine, further expanding on the theme of love-as-drug-and-hallucination.
5. Matthew’s first clues send him looking for Lisa at The Drake, a big fancy hotel, which looms like a giant dragon. Later, Matthew hangs with Luke who runs a shoe store called Dragon Shoes. This could be an allusion to knight vs the dragon in medieval romances.
6. Matthew finds Lisa’s powder case and Alex powders her face for her stage performances. Love as mask and deceit.
7. Matthew first saw Lisa as a video image minus the sound, suggesting the disjointedness of life.