tremble clef

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ladytron, "International Dateline" (2005)

Near the end of Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together, a film I watched for the millionth time today, two of the movie's three major characters are sitting in a bar in Bueno Aires, speaking to each other in different languages. A sign behind one of them says, appropriately, "3 Amigos." Both Chang and Fai came to Argentina as tourists and stayed illegally as low-wage workers. Fai, we know, has had a hard time of it, seeing his relationship with his fucked-up boyfriend go to hell, and now simply trying to stay afloat while saving up enough money to go back to Hong Kong. Chang has done so, and is thus heading back to Taipei soon, but not before he makes a trip to Tierra del Fuego. The town of Ushuaia, he has heard, is the southernmost city on the planet; it is the end of the world. El Fin del Mundo.

Chang hands Fai a tape recorder. Never one for tourist souvenirs, he urges Fai to leave his voice on the device for Chang to remember him by. Fai demures, but Chang tells him to confide to the recorder all his deepest sorrows. "I'll carry it to the end of the world for you." Chang leaves the table, and we see Fai hold the tape recorder up to his mouth. It obscures his lips. Seven empty beer bottles hold the foreground of the shot, as Fai cries, composes himself, and then gets overwhelmed again.

When the film later shows us Chang in Ushuaia -- it is January 1997 -- he is standing at the lighthouse at the end of the world. Pensive and alone, he holds the tape recorder up to his ears. He hears nothing, he tells us in a voiceover; just some strange sounds "like someone sobbing."

Ladytron: "The international dateline/Let's end it here." Ambiguous lines. Fighting words, or words of resignation and even death?