Review by Christopher Kestell
Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey into Night (no relation to the play of the same name by Eugene O’Neill) stars Huang Jue and Tang Wei and is easily one of the most unforgettable cinematic experiences you will ever have, whether you enjoy it or not. Ostensibly the story of a man tortured by the memory of a fleeting past love, this film is both mystery and romance, while also being that which makes the labels ‘mystery’ and ‘romance’ somewhat redundant.
Reviewing the bonkers Long Day’s Journey into Night is an unenviable task, primarily
because of the film’s slippery and indefinable nature. The film’s central conceit springs to life an hour or so into its runtime and should not be spoiled before viewing. This conceit is both thematic and formal, and its visionary risk pays off for those willing to go along with it. As this film is divided right down the middle (with a title sequence half-way and an admirably handled prompt to don our 3D glasses), it is sure to divide audiences in similar proportions.
The slow pace with which Bi Gan attempts to immerse the viewer into his overarching idea as his protagonist traipses through memory and fantasy is indulgent and will be maddening for some. “Some” here referring to the two critics at the press screening who audibly fell asleep repeatedly. A choppily-edited and lean version of Long Day’s Journey into Night would be, however, entirely inappropriate. This film is world-building in a sense distant from the connotations of a Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, and crafts what can be tentatively described as a vast interiority. Which is to say a personal world that stretches in a million directions, into the past, the future, the imagined, and the misremembered. This sense is exemplified by the mesmerising cinematography of
the film’s first half, which places the camera in unique places that amount to a keenly felt voyeurism.
The slow pace with which Bi Gan attempts to immerse the viewer into his overarching idea as his protagonist traipses through memory and fantasy is indulgent and will be maddening for some.
As for the film’s second half, the words “hour-long unbroken long take, in 3D” spur an
instant judgement of “gimmicky”. However, Bi Gan has outdone himself as both a writer and as a filmmaker. In his questionable derision of the film adaptation of American Psycho, author Bret Easton Ellis asserted that a book is written as a book only when its story should be told as a book, and if that is not the case then it should be told in a different form. The second half of Long Day’s Journey into Night thus achieves the highest honour a work of art can attain: it leaves an audience feeling that its story could only be told as an hour-long unbroken long take in 3D. Its technical wizardry comes second to its functional storytelling, thus rendering said achievement monumental.
The film suffers at times from an occasional motivational and emotional rootlessness. The story itself is somewhat choppy, leaving the feeling that we’re missing something in a sense that goes beyond a traditional understanding of the mystery genre. Yet, engrossing performances from both stars and supporting cast, backgrounded by gorgeous production design and anchored to an engaging and evocative story, succeed in augmenting a jaw-dropping technical achievement into a sprawling cinematic dream.
Long Day’s Journey into Night opens in select theatres in Ireland on December 27th.