“We rub elbows with people a lot every day, some of them might become your friends or even confidants.” (Wong, Fallen Angels, 00:20:50-00:20:57)
As social beings, looking for meaningful connections is an aspect of life to which the majority ascribes to. It is not a coincidence that when one looks online for “human connection”, most results that can be found are related to the importance and positive aspects of forming relations. Many titles discuss how this helps us think better, be healthier, thrive in the workplace, boost mental health, obtain success, be happier, change the world, etc. Even the World Health Organization states: “High-quality social connections are essential to our mental and physical health and our well-being.” (2022). Thus, the wish to establish links with others is only natural, and people are often in search of them in order to achieve personal fulfillment. However, forming connections and maintaining them is not necessarily an easy task.
The movie Fallen Angels delves into the topic of loneliness and the many difficulties encountered when forming meaningful relations. Directed by Wong Kar-wai in Hong Kong in 1995, Fallen Angels displays the lives of five characters with a variety of differences between each other, but with one main aspect in common: their perpetual search for connection. The protagonists appear to be quite unique while still maintaining traits in which the viewer can see themselves reflected. Among them there is a hitman, the hitman’s agent, an ex-convict, a prostitute, and a single woman. The film explores human relations through multiple mediums, and depicts people’s desires in a relatable, yet somewhat troubled way.
While the protagonists seem to be craving some type of relation, there is an evident comfort in their own loneliness. The film in itself does not romanticize the loneliness of the characters, but rather the characters appear to hold some pride and pleasure in their solitude. In spite of having been released almost 30 years ago, it does an excellent job at depicting modern life struggles. In a really fast world, it is not out of the question for one to feel lonely often. Connection is very subjective, and the harder it seems to achieve, the more likely people are to get attached to superficial relations. The cast shows intense emotions towards each other even while there is little communication between them: “We’ve been business partners for 155 weeks now. We are sitting together for the first time today. We seldom see each other because it is hard to control one’s emotions.” (Wong, Fallen Angels, 00:00:39-00:00:52). The characters seem to generate strong attachments simply out of the discomfort of not having them.
Robert Waldinger states in Harvard Magazine: “You’ve probably known people who seem to have a lot of friends, but when they talk about it, they’ll say, ‘I don’t really feel like anybody knows me,’ or ‘I don’t really feel close to many people.’” (2021). This type of thought is shared by many individuals and it pertains to the romanticization of solitude and the loneliness epidemic. The protagonists appear to be alienated from the rest of the world for one reason or another, and they crave for connections with someone even if this one turns out to be incredibly frivolous. Nonetheless, the film portrays the fickleness of relations without disregarding the importance and impact of them: “Actually, I hadn’t been that close to anyone for a while. The road wasn’t long, and I knew soon I’d be getting off, but at that moment, I felt such warmth.”(Wong, Fallen Angels, 01:34:18-01:34:32). Temporal connections can be as meaningful or more meaningful than long ones.
For the most part, the plot takes place at night, providing a darker and more secretive tone to the movie, and with that, enhancing the personal journey of the characters. Along the darkness two colors–shades of green and shades of red–are prominent in the backgrounds, clothing, and lights. This does a great job at enhancing the contradictory sentiments of the characters in their search for connections. This is a good reflection of everyday people’s struggles since several aspects can be true at once, in spite of their contradictions. Red and green are opposite colors, but they are also complementary. Green represents a very harmonious, peaceful and stable color, while red displays strong sentiments and passion. This is important since the characters seem to be trying to reconcile their attraction for solitude with their desire to connect with others, which is reflected in the palate.
Similarly, the rain appears in multiple moments in the movie, adding up other significant meanings such as renewal, sadness, introspection, and foreboding. It serves as a means for the characters to display their true sentiments: “Just when I really needed a raincoat, he returned to my side. It would be so great if it rained forever.” (Wong, Fallen Angels, 01:14:59-01:15:15). In here, the character expresses the pleasure of having a companion and her wish for that to continue. Despite the general gloomy tone of the film, it also contains a lot of hopefulness. The characters do not seem particularly unhappy with their loneliness, but rather strained.
The film explores human relations in a very paradoxically intimate, yet distanced manner. It is clear throughout the film that the boundaries that are being set in the story, are similar to the ones being set towards the audience. The viewers obtain some proximity to the characters since, for the most part, they express their emotions and points of view directly to them. Nonetheless, it is clear that a facade is being kept for the public and there is no full disclosure of their perception, just as it seems to be between each other.
That is enhanced through the camera positions and types of shots. A large number of shots are done as close ups, yet with a slight fisheye effect. Close ups provide the viewers a more detailed and personal approach, while at the same time showing only a portion of the reality. The fisheye effect also generates proximity and emphasis on something while having an innovative extreme wide angle throughout, yet it tends to distort the image as well. This is accompanied in the film by a variety of awkward angles and blurriness that display discomfort and the isolation of these characters with the others and in their space. All of those characteristics are significant since these effects augment the conflicting manner in which the viewer is interpreting the film. The audience can see them up close and hear their point of view from their own mouths while it pushes a sensation of intrusiveness or invasiveness. The viewer is part of their world just as much as the other characters, and gets to personally experience these connections.
The film Fallen Angels pushes its audience to confront the complexities of human relations and solitude in the modern world. Its melancholic, yet dreamy tone accurately depicts the conflictive view that many have with these concepts. Filled with contradictions, the movie accurately presents the emotional struggles of humans, who often tend to be contradictory. Even though the connections created by the characters do not last, the last few minutes include two extra sentences to one of the lines at the beginning of the movie, providing a warm tone to the whole plot, and giving hope for the characters in their perpetual search for connections:
“We rub elbows with people a lot every day, some of them might become your friends or even confidants. So I never turn my back on the chance of rubbing elbows. Sometimes I rub till I bleed. No big deal as long as I am happy.” (Wong, Fallen Angels, 01:32:48-01-01:33:12).
Sweet, Jacob. “The Loneliness Pandemic: The psychology and social costs of isolation in everyday life”. Harvard Magazine, 2021, https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2021/01/feature-the-loneliness-pandemic
Wong, Kar wai, director. Fallen Angels. Jet Tone Productions, 1995, https://mubi.com/es/films/fallen-angels
World Health Organization. “Social Isolation and Loneliness”. 2022, https://www.who.int/teams/social-determinants-of-health/demographic-change-and-healthy-ageing/social-isolation-and-loneliness