Love and time. Love and politics. Our personal love stories are the little melodramas which furnish microcosmic backdrops for the sweep of world affairs. They colour our individual memories of particular periods and signficant historical events. This might explain why novels like War and Peace and A Tale of Two Cities, which are about wars and revolutions, are anchored in romance. The personal absence, loss or collapse of love in arts and literature can define the collapse of political or social order. The Neo-Classical painting above by Godward uses the loaded moment when two lovers are lolling in each other's presence to capture a parallel moment now lost to our civilization - an imagined golden arcadia in antiquity.
The 2006 remake All the King's Men , based on the famous 1946 American novel of the same name by Robert Penn Warren explored the dystopic alternative - Warren used love gone wrong as a metaphor for times gone wrong. Both the book and the film have a strong romantic subplot. The story is a fictitious account of the populist Huey Long. Long is now cited on political blogs as saying: "When Fascism comes to America, it will come under the guise of anti-Fascism." But that drama about the spread of mass politics and the election of the new populist governor depends heavily on a subplot about the romance of the narrator, Jack Burden, with the previous governor's daughter, Anne Stanton.
The romantic subplot follows Burden's larger problem with truth and time. Wiki: "Jack's overall character development might be roughly described as a journey away from an amoral perspective on human history as a chain of uncontrollable events, toward a belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all of history. In other words, he might be said to trace a path from refusal to acceptance of personal responsibility. On the other hand, one defining trait that remains a constant throughout Jack's development is a passion for discovering the truth of history. [Jack says:] 'And all times are one time, and all those dead in the past never lived before our definition gives them life, and out of the shadow their eyes implore us. That is what all of us historical researchers believe. And we love truth.'"
You can read Robert Penn Warren's novel posted from Google Books, below the jump. On pages 311-312, Burden confronts his childhood sweetheart, Anne Stanton, about how their love affair went wrong. He asks if the past they shared was so wonderful, why did it give way to this time, a time when he and the people he comes from are falling into decline.
In the 2006 film script, Burden begins by denying truth: "To find something, anything, a great truth or a lost pair of glasses, you must first believe there would be some advantage in finding it. I found something a long time ago, and have held on to it for grim death ever since. I owe my success in life to it; it put me where I am today. This principle: what you don't know won't hurt you. They called it idealism in a book I read." Yet the politician Willie Stark says, "Time brings all things to light, I trust it so." Time shows that Burden let his opportunity with his one love, Anne, pass by. Burden says, "You only get a couple of moments that determine your life. Sometimes only one. And then it's gone." He misses his opportunity, and so do all those who belong to his class, thus making way for a new tumultuous order. The ideal is lost.
We are left with this notion that ideal romantic love once existed - whether in personal pasts, societal memories (as with Godward's painting), or in culture - and that we subsist in the post-idealistic aftermath of political upheaval. Under these latter conditions, love appears in new brash forms, while love's original youthful glory is encased in secrets. Some new standards of romance, as well as other values, start to appear, but they are also hidden behind the scenes. One typical Millennial paradox is the Website Post Secret, where people anonymously (yet as publicly as possible) post their most intimate secrets and regrets, often about lost loves.
Caption for In the Mood for Love's English trailer: A man and a woman move in to neighboring Hong Kong apartments and form a bond when they both suspect their largely absent spouses of extra-marital activities. But social restraints and their rejection of their spouses' cheating behaviour prevents them from consummating the relationship.
In the final sequence of In the Mood for Love, the hero whispers of his secret love into a hole in a temple wall at Angkor Wat, and seals it with earth. Video Source: Youtube.
Wong Kar-Wai explored this idea of ideal romance which is associated with a lost era - in this case, 1960s' Hong Kong - followed by a lonely aftermath of raunchy sex that hides love's secrets and the roots of a new order in his famous trilogy of movies about love from 1991, 2000 and 2004. These are: Days of Being Wild (see here), In the Mood for Love (花樣年華; 花样年华; Pinyin: Huāyàng niánhuá; Yale: Fa yeung nin wa, literally "the age of blossoms" or "the flowery years", which is a Chinese metaphor for the fleeting time of youth, beauty and love) and the futuristic film, 2046. The films tie our hearts to the times and their events - love in its all its guises provides a thread of continuity through past, present and future - and tells us the story of the chaotic world around us.
For my earlier posts on Love in the New Millennium, go here.