What I Learned About Romance From Wong Kar-Wai’s “In The Mood For Love”
It is raining. Only the patter of drops can be heard against the rooftops. A man in a gray suit leans against a worn wall. His hair is wet. A woman, out of focus, stands next to him. The man begins to speak. He says that he is moving to Singapore. He is in love with the woman, he says, but knows she will not leave her husband. The woman’s face remains out of focus. Despite the company of the woman, he is alone, isolated with his feelings. It is the visual language of love unfulfilled, of loneliness even when speaking to a beloved.
There is a cut in the film. Now we are watching the woman. She wears a floral dress with an elegant cowl neck. Now the man is out of focus. But he keeps speaking. The words matter little. We are transfixed on this beautiful woman’s face as she realizes that their time together is ending. We do not pay attention to the man’s reaction. All we see is this woman’s pain, the companion shot to the man’s unrequited love.
In the preface of William Wordsworth’s “Lyrical Ballads,” often considered the first work of romantic literature, Wordsworth describes poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings.”[i] I’ve always thought of that quote as a good working definition of romanticism. Above all else the romantic movement was about feeling. It was a reaction to the ordered rigor of the enlightenment where rationality was valued above all else. Enlightenment thinkers thought of God as a watchmaker, an unknowable being whose invisible hand directed the world. The romantics thought of nature as God personified. Rather than being unknowable, God was personal, experienced in the flower bed of lilies or the drift of leaves at a slight gust of wind.
As someone who has always trusted his feelings over his rationality, I have always felt connected to the romanticism of Wordsworth and others. Rationality has always felt foreign and hollow. As a child, I lived in a dream world of my emotions. I wandered by myself, lost in reverie in my backyard, creating fictional worlds with army action figures. I sat in my room many nights alone, creating…