A Brief History of Attachment: From 1966 to 2004 to "2046"

By Shian (NamoAmitofuo), The Daily Enlightenment, Published on the Buddhist Channel, Nov 8, 2004

Singapore -- Filmed from 1999 to 2004, set in 2046 and the 1960s, this is truly a timeless tale of yearning... to return to the past, to have and to hold lost love. Chow Mo Wan (played by Tony Leung) plays a flamboyant playboy who dreads loneliness. He flirts to find human warmth, which flits by because of his inability to commit, due to his constant search for his unrequitted love (Su Lizhen, played by Maggie Cheung). 

Unfortunately, he only finds the shadow of her haunting form. He was a "steady drifter." Because he was attached to not attaching, he was ironically not free but trapped. He could not really love anyone - not even himself. All the love he gave was physical as no one truly touched his heart. He never got to know anyone in depth. There was no heart to heart communication with his lovers; just carnal communion and tormenting guessing games at play.

Sypnosis: The year was 1966. Returning to Hong Kong, Chow Mo Wan had to confront a past that he was concealing. There were women; many women. Along the way, something had happened to him. His heart was cold. In it was buried many lost memories. No one could reach him. He wrote erotic novels for a living. He moved into room 2047. Soon he was writing a novel he called "2047." He thought he wrote about the future but it really was the past. In his novel, a mysterious train left for 2046 every once in a while. Everyone who went there had the same intention... to recapture their lost memories. It was said that in 2046, nothing ever changed. Nobody knew for sure if it was true, because nobody who went there had ever come back - except for one. He was there. He chose to leave. He wanted to change. -paraphrased from wkw2046.com | pic:empiremovies.com

With various women, he could only "lend" his commitment and not give it - for he had already unconciously given it to the "ghost" of his lost love. Outwardly, he is gregarious and in control, but he was wasting himself in the midst of constant song and dance, wine and women, further breaking his own heart while accidentally breaking others'. The scenes of glamourously dressed men and women laughing and toasting away at lavish dinner parties set to a decadent soundtrack reminded me of complacent gods gallivanting, lost in their self-indulgence, escaping from facing their true selves.

Chow utters with poetic melancholy, "We cannot leave our past. We can only hope that our past will leave us one day." Like the future, is the past not a delusion in the here and now? What cannot be relived we should let go. We look back at fond memories with regret only when we fail to treasure their goodness in themselves then and crave for more. What was good is already good. What good does it make when we want more? In reply to Chow, "We do not need to leave our past. We need to realise that our past has already left us." If our past karma and present efforts have it that we will reunite with lost loves, we will, in good time. What can we do, other than to love on but not cling on?

Despite many critics' perceptions, the director of 2046, Wong Kar Wai, remarked that it is not really a sequel to his acclaimed "In the Mood for Love." The general viewer can see it interlinked, yet not. It is a lot like life, is it not? Actually connected yet apparently disjointed, intertwined yet episodal. Every one of our experiences seems to have a life of its own, till we delve deeper and discover how they evolved to be the way they are from our previous lives and moments. We are the result of a chain of cause and effect. Just as Chow unwittingly writes himself into his novel and discovers himself in greater depth, we wonder how much of the director's psyche and that of the cast is embedded into the story. But more importantly, how much of yourself do you see in 2046? What have you learnt?

The storyline of 2046 seems convoluted and unlinear, but it breathes of real life - because life is indeed convoluted and unlinear. Our past haunts us time and again, as we loop the loops in life (and death) - that is why we are trapped in the cycle of Samsara, of recurrent attachment and aversion.

Why are there so many women in Chow's life? Script wise, they explore the nature of commitment versus attachment, representing roles of victims of love, or rather, attachment... One feels she does not deserve love and lets love by (another Su Lizhen, played by Gong Li). One feels that she has found the love of her life love but is unrequitted (Bai Ling, played by Zhang Ziyi). One almost missed her love for life through not fighting for it (Wang Jing Wen, played by Faye Wong). One struggles to find love and ends up pushing it at away (Lulu, played by Carina Lau). Chow glimpses, with surprise, reflections of himself in them, realising that some of the very heartfelt advice he gave them apply directly to him. In the course of our worldly and spiritual struggles, we are bound to discover ourselves more and more from interacting with others - for what is this world but a reflection of ourselves? This world you perceive is as you are, not as it is... as long as you are not enlightened.

In Chow's novel, a mysterious train leaves for 2046 where nothing changes, though no one is sure. Its passengers wish to relive their lost memories. No one ever returned, other than Chow's alter ego in his story. He returned because he wished to change, after realising the futility of hanging on to the past. He wanted to shed the burden of the past and return to the present moment. Not that time-travel is possible, but are the passengers who left for good lost in their past? Could it be paradise found, or could it gradually become hell? Change is inevitable; everything is impermanent - this is a universal characteristic. Even the past relived does not gaurantee it will lead to True Happiness, which is possible only in relinquishing attachment now while enjoying the moment. Worldly love changes... as much as wish it to remain unchanged forever... which is the very reason why we need to learn to cultivate True Love - an enlightened love so pure that it only brings joy to everyone, a love that never breaks any hearts, a love that touches all with deep compassion and wisdom.

We all wish we are in the train sometimes, but as much as it is a dream vehicle for Chow, it is fictitious. We already are on, as Chow put it, on a "long train to a drowsy future." It is a drowsy ride as long as we cling to our murky past and fret the uncertain future, as long as we do not live "now" NOW. Sitting for hours at his desk, he could not amend the ending of his novel to give it a happier ending. With all his colourful life experiences and literary skills, he could not write his own path to salvation. What can we do, in this train ride of life coursing towards the unknown, but to learn to let the past behind, so as to treasure the scenery now without attachment... lest it passes us by without our full appreciation. Why look back in regret later? 

Chow discovers that 
"Love truly is a matter of timing." Don't express your love too early or too late - it wouldn't work. And there is no point in shouting your love into "a hole in a tree" (a recurrent imagery in the film) to bottle it up - tell it to the ones you love before it is too late. But whether you express your love or not, you can only love who you are with now, not phantoms of the past or future. The right timing for love is now really. And it will work if it comes with no strings of attachment attached, for true love never binds anyone, be it the ones you love or the ones who love. Like the Buddha's true love, may our love be open, may it be free, and may it set us all free.
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