As a pro-active viewer, you blow your own narratives into the films you watch. Your narratives, you take from what you read, from what you see, from what you think. And if you’re also a builder, specially of skies, you carry many clouds. These clouds most likely conflate and you create layered narratives, the type that enhance your enjoyment of a story that would have otherwise been scant.
I’m an amateur student of Lewis Carrol’s Alice. That’s a book everyone should read. It is a story about shifting worlds between knowing, and what we know about knowing. Part of its implication is that to know about the world, we have to assess what we know about knowledge (and that begins with reasoning about language). It’s a rich and dense work, and it deals with much more than the logical games it is reputed for. Some say its structure is based on notions of Tarot and Kaballah which in themselves are the root of other mathematical (logical) notions. It has influenced much of what’s interesting and innovative about narrative in the 20th century: James Joyce, Nabokov, Borges, P.K. Dick, a lot of the intuitive and psychedelic literature of the seventies, The Beatles.
I have not read this anywhere before, even after doing research, but to me it is obvious: this movie here is based around the Alices books. It is not ‘cute’ in the way it has been described in other reviews, but it has humour, and much of it comes from direct references to the logical wordgames of the books. I am not knowledgable enough to draw deep parallels between the two, but what it has at the surface is already worthwhile.
One of our two main characters is under many ‘rabbit’ disguises; he can ‘steal’ days as though the words that designate them were objects; and he can also steal other people’s skills as if a skill could be ‘lost’ in the sense of misplacement, to later be recovered, or ‘thieved’. People die inside of clocks, shrink and grow in an instant, and even draw doors (on bodies here) as a gateway within a self.
You can add to that: a mythomaniac who tells tall tales but later forgets them, characters who believe they are in musicals, conversations with inanimate objects, subterranean hangars where a radio delivers only the news you want to hear, in this same hangar a woman who believes herself to be a cyborg undergoes ‘repairs’, and well, the list is long.
No, it is not ‘wacky’, or ‘cute’ or ‘quirky’ or ‘offbeat’, in the sense film comedy is known for, where the purpose is to endear. Here, there is clearly one thread, one center, out of which these polished baubles are made. It is then a matter of set design how they are placed in the narrative.
And in terms of design, Park is noted for being ‘stylish’. And yes, duly noted. He has a dimensional awareness in his compositions, and his sense of color and light is lush. But it is much more than that. This man has an essential cinematic imagination and sense of economy. It is even too fast for this viewer (who struggled with the amount of information communicated in the opening). Where Tim Burton is cinematical in the way he can slice a reality and craft an elegant and economical presentation for it (a simple exposition for instance), Park multiplies these presentations, juxtaposes them, and triples the speed. I have never seen the man but I am willing to bet he is a fast talker or if not, a fast thinker.
Now that you understand the main intent here (to mine ‘Alice’ as a cinematic object), you can make up your own mind about the story. Personally, I appreciate the fact that it is not overtly sentimental. It is even clumsy the way the love interest grows, incidental. The ending here is probably one of the best you will have seen. Not because of the way things are tied up, but simply the sheer poetry of the thing. It involves our lovers, a storm, an electrical antenna, the need for ressourcing, and wet socks. One hint: in the final shot, they actually lie naked in the distance.
This is probably one of the top two movies of 2006.