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Wednesday, March 15, 2023

破门前后:中日对照

欧洲人进入日本可以追溯到十六世纪后期,西班牙传教士在民间传教,与当地政治秩序产生一定摩擦。德川幕府建立后(1603),逐渐加强对外国人的限制,开放长崎和平户两个港口允许外国船只停靠和贸易。其中荷兰商人被允许的权利最大,也许因为荷兰船只一心经商,对传教不太热衷(西医药进入日本时被称为“兰学”)。

1633年幕府开始实施“锁国令”,原因或许政治经济都有。1637年爆发岛原之乱,起因是农民不堪压榨而反抗官府,但同时基督教也起到凝聚力和号召力的作用。

对比1840年代开始的太平天国运动,也是与基督教相关的反政府组织,虽然相隔两百年,二者近似之处无法否认。基督教在民间广为流传,给不满现状的下层人民提供了一个理论基础和传播途径。

天草四郎之后,德川幕府极度严密地执行锁国政策,以防重蹈覆辙,倒也相当有效,保持了两百年的稳定社会,并通过削藩集中政治权力。直到1853年美国军舰“黑船”驶入江户湾,在大炮的威胁下,幕府被迫向西方国家开放港口和通商活动。这一转变给日本政治带来前所未有的危机,国民对洋人的不满情绪日渐高涨,与洋人的暴力冲突也屡屡发生,当然一边讨厌洋人一边把矛头指向当政的幕府。倒幕派的萨摩藩与长洲藩发出“尊王攘夷”的口号,借着拥戴天皇的理由(天皇不掌实权已经一千年了)颠覆幕府统治。

这段历史与义和团(1899-1901)也颇有相似之处。鸦片战争和八国联军几次战争之后,在中国境内经商与传教的洋人增加,经常与普通民众接触,民间少不了产生摩擦和冲突无法避免。洋人抗议并要求当地政府保护自己,结果加剧了民间对政府的不满,这里有政治的原因,也有民族的动机。

倒幕运动于1868年成功推翻了集权稳定250年的德川幕府,明治天皇执掌大权。不过天皇并没有“攘夷”,而是更彻底地全面开放,加强工业与军事的进口贸易;同时积极向西方考察学习,以迅猛的速度进行政治改革,引进君主立宪的制度。事情的发展证明德川家康的锁国令是正确的——从家族的角度来看,因为开国就会带来自己的灭亡。

相比之下,清朝的闭关锁国政策在鸦片战争之后就破裂了,之后半个多世纪都夹在洋人与国内反对势力之间拼命维持。清朝皇室也并非没有试图进口武器与技术,建立北洋舰队,雇佣西洋船长,搞洋务运动,等等;但政治改革是绝对无法接受的——当然德川幕府也未曾接受政治改革。所以,辛亥革命与倒幕运动有一定的平行之处,虽然时间上晚了半个世纪,但彻底颠覆了皇权,也有其更进步的意义。

两国的平行甚至延续到开国与制度改革之后,政治权力在短期内被军阀掌握。虽然有很多呼声和努力想要推进民主制度,下放权力,但是架不住封建时代遗留的权力结构和资源分配。日本经历了短暂的大正时代的进步与繁荣,但迅速地被法西斯势力控制;而中国在苏联的幕后操纵下陷入内战状态。

所以,排除时间上的差别,中日的国门开放过程其实是颇为相似的,差别主要在于两国在战争中的胜负结果。清朝政府打了很多战争,对外战争几乎全部失败,严重动摇了军事实力,但正因为如此,辛亥革命才不需要旷日持久的战争就迅速胜利。日本则是一路凯歌,从1895年日俄战争开始逐步扩张殖民打算吞下整个亚洲,在50年内从底层迅速走向顶峰再跌落到二战战败。(Pacific Overtures 提出的理论是,日本的殖民主义风潮是跟着黑船学来,依葫芦画瓢,通过武力扩张就能把自己变成世界强国,这好像也有点道理。)

在列强敲开国门之前,日本与中国的社会都是看似集权稳定,但冲突的暗流汹涌。日本是各藩对幕府的不满逐渐积累,中国是满汉之争。清朝皇权掌握在满洲贵族手中,与人口占绝对多数的汉人一直存在冲突和压力。虽然清朝的很多军事和政治力量部分掌握在一些汉人将军和官员手中,例如曾国藩,李鸿章,但革命党也经常用满汉之分来支持自己的反清事业。(清朝皇权被灭之后,满洲人不得不退回东北原址,接受日本的扶植而建立满洲国,也并不能阻止本族湮灭在时代浪潮中的命运。)这些原本只是暗流的内部矛盾,然而外来压力让它们浮出水面,最终干掉了旧秩序。如果没有外界压力,中日两国想必会沿着当时的轨道继续一些年,直到另外什么事情发生。

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Banshees of Inisherin

 

For the first 15 to 30 minutes of this movie, I seriously thought it was a satire on modern Internet friendships. In the past couple of years, I have been the dumper and dumpee of several relationships, including being basically ghosted, all of which were equally depressing and traumatizing. So I can sympathize with both characters in their agony and annoyance. The end of friendships is an unavoidable reality throughout one's life, but past experience does not make this process any easier as one becomes older. 

Half way into it, however, things made a bizarre and bloody turn, and I had to admit that the strife between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is not an allegory of friends breaking up in the Internet age. I dug up information on the Irish Civil War of early 1920s and began to understand the author's intent.

With its absurdist style, Martin McDonagh's movie contains a vague feeling that this deadly conflict between fellow Irishmen was senseless and pointless. Aside from the general principle that killing and war are fundamentally senseless, I don't quite agree, even though I am in no position to tell an Irishman anything about his own history. I can see why the conflict between the Free State and Republican factions broke out when the independence war with Britain came to a compromise instead of an outright victory. I have no particular urge to take sides, but each side did have their own reason and logic for the stand they took and felt they had to defend. And let's not pretend that there were only two sides to the conflict. There was an outside force not so subtly nudging them on.

The Irish history is by no means an outlier. The more I learn about it, the more it confirms my revised view of what war is. Conflicts and struggles in society do not have a discrete start and end date. War is just one of many continuous phases of these conflicts among people and factions. 

What I appreciate about McDonagh's treatment of war is the willingness to be kind to both sides and acknowledge their past friendship and continued ambiguity with each other. Nevertheless, I find it not completely satisfying as an allegory. 

Winding my way back to the issue of severed relationships and rejections, I have long realized that it always goes back to one's relationship with one's mother, that cliché of "attachment."

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Someone in the Tree (Pacific Overtures)

 


One of the least produced Sondheim musicals, Pacific Overtures is a show that I very much wanted but did not expect to see in my lifetime. And yet! Signature Theatre nearby produced it this year! So of course I have to go see it at least twice. 

Compared with the original Broadway version, which can be seen on YouTube, this production is necessarily smaller, shorter, and more modest, but immensely enjoyable nevertheless. 

The history around the opening of Japan to western countries is complex and fascinating. I somehow fell into it because of my interest in Japanese jidaigeki action cinema and the Nemuri Kyoshiro novels in the past few years. The period around the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate is a critical juncture in the history of modern Japan and continues to inspire much pulp fiction and genre movies in Japan. I know why I am interested in this part of history, but for the life of mine I cannot imagine how Sondheim got into it. 

The amount of effort he put into making Pacific Overtures must have been enormous. Of course it is not an accurate documentary of Japanese history, but the artistic rendition of it is consistent with my understanding. The music is obviously influenced by Japanese traditional theater, namely Noh and Kabuki, of which I am very ignorant. The original set and direction were also designed to evoke that feel, which suggests that Harold Prince was equally interested in this approach. 

It is extraordinary that the entire musical is presented from the Japanese point of view. There is zero white character inserted into the story to lead the audience into the unfamiliar setting and allow them to identify with. If it were a book, Pacific Overtures would be closer to a nonfiction book than a novel, with some humor and gag thrown in for effect. Sondheim and Prince never bothered to make it easier or "friendlier" for American audience, so the audience has to make an effort to imagine themselves in this unfamiliar historical place, with few conventional tools to latch onto. 

Although the show does not have a conventional protagonist and antagonist and has a generally detached narrative tone (not least through the use of a narrator as common in Japanese theater), one song stands out to counterbalance this impersonal tone. Someone in the Tree has three ordinary characters talk about an important historical moment, the negotiation and signing of the Kanagawa Treaty between Japan and the US. It reminds me of the song "Room Where it Happens" in Hamilton, which no doubt was influenced by "Someone in the Tree." Note that although two of the characters claim to be there in the room where it happened, they were of no importance and had no involvement. They were merely observers and entirely passive, even though their lives and fates were irrevocably altered by the treaty. 

In some sense, Someone in the Tree is about hyperobjects, average people living in a world too large and complex to be known or understood. We live through and witness history, but we cannot control or make history, or even begin to understand its mechanisms. 

In any story set in a background of changing times, there is always a tension between the small scale and big picture. To focus on the tides of time and grand scheme of things always runs the risk of losing sight of individual lives and tears, but individual lives are truly and tangibly affected by the invisible hand of historical events. It is a constant dilemma for storytelling, because it is also the unknowable reality of our daily lives. 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)


Jim Jarmusch is not known as an auteur in either the action or the comedy genre, but this movie shows that he can do both. Sometimes it is ambiguous as to whether he is making fun of or paying homage to genre classics (why not both?). Still, he approaches many tropes with his quirky twists, while wearing the influence on his sleeves:

Melville's Le Samurai, Kurosawa's Rashomon, the Godfather series (and very likely Scorsese's Italian gangster movies that I have not seen), John Singleton's South Central gangster movies in the 1990s, and, of course, Tom and Jerry and other old violent cartoons. I don't know whether he was also influenced by the pulpier old chanbara movies (e.g., Lone Wolf and Cub) and John Woo's HK gangster films, but the vibe is definitely there. 

The odd friendship between Raymond the ice cream guy and Ghost Dog, in which they express the same sentiment and information in different languages without understanding each other, speaks for Jarmusch's theses that language barriers cannot separate the same love and passion for violent, bloody cinema all around the world. 

Before it became a thing, Jarmusch made his commentary on decrepit elderly gangsters. Every scene in which the old farts bicker with each other is comic gold. All the actors had fantastic timing and deadpan humor. Also, long before John Wick, Forest Whitaker had some hilarious, cartoon-inspired assassination ploys that are as inventive and delightful as ever. I wish more action movie directors would take a look at this movie and find some inspiration in the set pieces. 

By casting the inimitable Whitaker and putting him in the midst of a flurry of pigeons, Jarmusch is obviously making a reference to his earlier role in "Bird" (1988), in which he played Charlie Parker and won best actor at Cannes.

With 2023 hindsight, I have a couple of gripes about the movie. The first is the utter uselessness of the female character (the daughter of one of the mobsters, played by Tricia Vessey). Sure, one could argue that women had little to do in the gangster genre and all the classics he referenced. Unfortunately, there is a little too much resemblance to the singer in Le Samurai with zero understanding of her central function in that movie. Her makeup is strikingly similar to Uma Thurman in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, which had come out only 5 years before, but her material is vastly inferior in comparison. 

The second complaint is the uncomfortable racial symbolism in this mock retainer-master relationship between Ghost Dog and Louie. The ending, which I understand is an intentional nod to Le Samurai and a weak and superficial understanding of Japanese samurai movies, nevertheless holds up poorly over time. 

Monday, January 23, 2023

Romanticized Sikhs

Although I have only a sample of two, it struck me that two authors of South Asian descent chose Sikhism for the heroic characters in their novels. The first is Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games (published 2007), in which the leading man, Detective Inspector Sartaj Singh, is Sikh and diffuses a grave terrorist threat to the city of Mumbai. The second is Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (1992), in which again the pure, idealistic, generous, almost too good to be true protagonist is also Sikh. Note that both authors are definitely not Sikh themselves.

Sikhism is a relatively young religion, emerging in the 17th century. It came out of the Hindu tradition but absorbs a lot of the concerns and needs in modern life, in response to some parts of Hinduism that may have become outdated or inadequate. In some ways it is very idealistic and deeply concerned about morality and justice, and shares some similarities with Jainism. However, Jainism has a large pacifist component, while Sikh men are raised to be warriors. 

I'm no expert in either Jainism or Sikhism. I am just curious as to why Sikhism is attractive to these two South Asian male novelists who are looking at it from the outside. Perhaps there is a sense or hope that Sikhs have solved the contradiction between peace and violence. Just a wild guess. In my mind, however, the path to dharma is paradoxical and multidimensional. There is no magic bullet. 

I do wonder though: Is this some kind of appropriation? But who am I to say? I'm not Sikh. I'm not even Indian. 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The English Patient

I am not putting on a photo of the movie, released in 1996 by Miramax and adapted and directed by Anthony Minghella. When I first saw it I disliked it a lot without being able to explain my reaction. After I have read the novel, I despise the movie all the more. 


For the novel I have some conflicting feelings. Indeed it is split into two halves: the pre-war years in Cairo and the desert where the extramarital affair between Katharine Clifton and the Hungarian explorer Almasy took place; and 1945 (the present) at an abandoned Tuscan villa where the nurse Hana, her father's friend Caravaggio, a Sikh bomb disposal specialist Kirpal Singh, and a burned, dying Almasy converge. 

The question in my mind was always why these two halves. There is very little apparent thematic connection between the two couples and relationships. One is obsessive and violent and destructive. The other is equal and uncomplicated and healing. One is fundamentally cliched and carries a whiff of rottenness, while the other is raw and young.

The movie gave me the initial impression that Minghella was trying to sell a stale love triangle story as a grand, epic, and simple tragedy. No matter how glossy it is presented, I just can't get the rotten smell out of my nostril. I am not at all against adultery in art, but this is a week-old fish left out of the refrigerator. When you come at such a century-old plot, shouldn't you try to inject some new blood? The "new blood" injected here comes in the form of weird exoticism from Naveen Andrews making love to Juliet Binoche. In the movie, this subplot seems tacked on and awkward. Too much to be a sidebar and too little to compete with the main storyline.

Unfortunately, the novel does not help much in this aspect. The Almasy chapters still leave a bad taste in my mouth. At some point I realized why. These chapters are entirely told from Almasy's point of view. We get none of Katharine's point of view, even though there is a chapter named for her and gives a few pages that appear to be her point of view but have to have been filtered through him. The only thing that could potential save this story from these frustrating and suffocating cliches is the sinister undercurrent that is buried in Almasy's account. He insists that she left him out of conscience and loyalty for her marriage or perhaps fear of her husband (whatever, it's very vague), but her dialogs suggest that she was angry because she could not be more than a secret mistress to him. There is a general feeling of deceit in his overall account, but I won't go there for now. 

Staleness aside, I just find the movie adaptation to be so gigantically ironic. Out of curiosity, I skimmed a number of book reviews, and maybe one out of 10 has a throwaway mention of the unpleasant factoid that Almasy is a Nazi. Throughout the novel, Almasy struggles to conceal this fact, going so far as talking about himself in the third person. That he worked for German spies in the desert for 3 years is revealed only by Caravaggio's exposition. (Yeah, plotting is not a strong point of this novel.) Almasy implies that he decided to help the Axis as a revenge for Katharine's death ("[Rommel] was a brilliant man..."). The real-life Almasy, on which the character is based, was in fact quite active in German army during the war.

Minghella was sensitive to the inconvenient element, and skillfully revised it to some harmless excuse for his "collaboration" with the Germans that even the novel Almasy is unable to cook up out of self-interest. He knew that he must protect the audience from any uneasiness. Adultery is already pushing their limits. 

Indeed the movie unabashedly centers around Almasy's love affair. If Minghella really loved the novel and wanted to adapt it faithfully, he could have made a WWII "The Hurt Locker." Hana's storyline equally shares the intensity with Almasy in the first half, but Kirpal Singh's storyline dominates the second half of the novel. Everything is compelling -- the strength of the character, the thrilling details of bomb disposal, the emotional ambiguity, the cultural conflicts -- which contrasts with the tired cliches in Almasy's half. But Minghella did not want that story.

I don't really know why he kept a shadow of the Hana-Kip storyline in the movie at all. Maybe he liked the framing device. It remains the less stale part of the movie, but we also get a clear sense that the two young characters are there to serve Almasy's story. The irony lies in the fact that Ondaatje is making a similar observation in Singh's story. The throughline is how he has served the Allies for 5 years, risking gruesome death every day. This is a betrayal of his own country, India, and his older brother, who is thrown in jail by the British colonial government. But he loves his English mentors and comrades and amiably suffers the discrimination and hostility from British soldiers. Service, intelligence, generosity, courage, all purported virtues of Sikhism. His love for Britain continues until the real climax of the novel, when he finally reaches the breaking point --- 

"American, French, I don't care. When you start bombing the brown races of the world, you're an Englishman. You had King Leopold of Belgium and now you have fucking Harry Truman of the USA. You all learned it from the English."

So he splits. From love, from work, from his comrades and employment, from being used and exploited. He goes back to India, where independence will be won in a couple of years. Although Ondaatje is not Indian himself (born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Canada), the shadow of the empire constantly hovers over the four main characters, none of whom is English despite the title. 

Of course, as an English filmmaker selling to an American audience, Minghella carefully scraped away all of this, every little strand of anti-colonialism and every little bit of heroism in the Indian character. Despite the desert scenes, he kept the movie clean from any sand that may seep into the shoes of the British and American consumers to rub against their delicate feet, with the same meticulous attention as Singh dismantles a bomb.

And he was absolutely correct. Imagine the shock and indignation and rage when they read the novel and see the line "They would never have dropped such a bomb on a white nation." Indeed, the rage erupted, making the novel more controversial in the English-speaking market than the movie was.

I wonder how Ondaatje feels about the movie. He couldn't avoid being appropriated and used by the British after all. 

(PS. There is added irony that Almasy is designated as "Count" in the movie, while he is not identified as aristocracy in the novel. The real-life Almasy called himself "Count" but was in fact a commoner. Well, I guess if being a Nazi doesn't stop him from becoming a big romantic hero, what's a little fake news, eh? And then there is also the little issue of necrophilia ... What a guy.)

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Burning (2018): Case Explained (Spoilers)

 


Although long and containing many silent scenes, Lee Chang-Dong's Burning gripped me when I first saw it in a theater. I formed an immediate impression of the "solution" to the mystery as it is presented, which is fairly clear and unambiguous. Afterward, I was surprised to read in various reviews and comments that many people felt that the solution is equivocal. On second viewing, it became clear why I felt so certain instinctively. 

Below I'm going to focus only on explaining the mystery of Hae-mi's disappearance but not the artistic and poetic choices of the film, which are abundant and beautiful regardless.

<Spoilers>

Despite the artistic pedigree of Lee, he clearly employed genre techniques and elements in Burning, and centered the plot around a mystery: Hae-mi's vanishing. (I'm using the word "vanishing" to recall the Dutch movie "The Vanishing", which left a deep impression on me, and I'd be damned if Lee had not seen it.) If we look at this movie purely as a thriller/mystery, the question boils down to this: 

Was she murdered by Ben? 

And the possible answers are only two: 

1) Yes, Ben murdered her and hid her body somewhere that cannot be found. 

2) No, Ben has done nothing to her, and she disappeared for some other reason.

Why do I believe that the answer has to be 1)? Because all clues given in the movie support 1), and there is nothing in the movie that supports 2). In fact, there are almost too many clues to point to 1). In a conventional murder mystery, the author would provide some red herrings in addition to the "real" solution or culprit. Here, there is no red herring to suggest an alternative theory. Every little clue always points to Ben's crime. 

For everyone who believes that the movie still leaves open the possibility that Ben did not kill Hae-mi, the next question is inevitably "Then where is she?" The only possible answer is that she is hiding from the debt collectors, which Lee Chang-Dong tosses out there in one scene, and she has told no one, including Jong-su and Ben, anything about her escape. Keep in mind that this is a theory from an acquaintance. There are no other scenes to suggest that Lee has any interest in this possibility. We don't see Hae-mi talking about fearing the debt collectors or being threatened. We don't hear about anyone else being disappeared by debt collectors (not even a news fragment). We don't see anyone harassing Hae-mi for her debt or threaten to kidnap her or break her legs. 

That is the heart of the matter. This is not a true-crime documentary, where the truth may or may not conform to the clues presented in the movie. This is fiction, in which all the characters and scenes are the creations of Lee Chang-Dong's mind. What could have happened to Hae-mi outside of what Lee shows us is immaterial. All we care about is the author's intention for the story. And his intention cannot be more apparent. 

Of course, I am fully aware of Durrenmatt's "The Pledge", which argues for the unknowability of real life occurrences, and the indifference of the universe toward a person's perception or knowledge. That's valid, but Burning is obviously not that story. Even The Pledge came out of one man's mind with a point --- Durrenmatt's point. Lee too had a point to make, and he made this movie to support his point. He gave us no indication that the point is nihilism. As the audience, it is our responsibility to try to receive his signals and understand his intention. Otherwise we might as well write our own stories. 

So yes, what I should and do care about is his version of the truth, and he is obviously telling us that Ben murdered Hae-mi. 

In addition to the physical evidence of Ben's collection of cheap trinkets and the cat who answers to the name of "Boil," the more decisive clues are in the portrayal of the character. Early in the movie, before we suspect any criminal behaviors, Ben would drop lines that suggest his psychopathic personality, like "I don't remember ever shedding a tear" and "You have a stone in your heart; that's why you can't feel anything" (paraphrases). The latter line is transparently talking about himself, even though he is saying it to Hae-mi, who obviously does not have a stone in her heart. The exact same contempt (yawn) he shows to both Hae-mi and the subsequent girlfriend (ie, victim) is clearly a demonstration of his game, as he clearly is not interested in these women as individuals.

Many commentators made a point of questioning the veracity of Hae-mi. Is she a liar? Why does no one remember the past events she mentions? Is the cat real? Did she really fall into a well in childhood? She is so good at eating a nonexistent tangerine, perhaps the cat and her memory of the well are both fake as well? And, by extension, maybe her disappearance (or existence) is fake too? 

Here we are again faced with two possibilities: 

1) Hae-mi has lied about or imagined some or all of the things.

2) Hae-mi is telling the truth about everything. 

If 1) is true, then we can allow ourselves to discount everything she says and does, including her disappearance. Maybe her obsession with the "little hunger and great hunger" and her dance in the sunset are a performance or delusion. Both JS and Ben are fooled. There is never a tangerine or cat or anything else there. The most charitable reading is that she has no grasp on reality, so much so that she never bothers to contact JS after running away from the debt collectors. A less charitable interpretation is that she is just like JS's mother, who disappears and shows up 16 years later asking for money.

If 2) is true, her story in this movie is about the erasure of a young woman, full of yearning, loneliness, spirit, and life. When she was a child, she fell into a well and no one even noticed. She did not tell her family after being rescued and her family did not care enough to ask where she had been. It is one of many signs of her family's indifference toward her, consistent with the exchange in the eatery ("tell her not to come home until she's paid off her credit card debts") and Ben's casual slip that she had no contact with her family (note that both corroborate each other). In the context of the movie, she has figuratively "fallen into a well" and disappeared again, and, again, the only person who cares is Jong-su. The rest of the world just moves on as if nothing has happened. She tries to express her yearning for the meaning of life and her sense of beauty (the trash-filled parking lot in Africa where she was moved to tears by the sunset), and others look at her with awkward chuckles and yawns.  

Which one do you think is Lee Chang-Dong's intention? I have seen one other film by Lee ("Secret Sunshine"). Between these two films, I sense zero cynicism from him. Instead, I feel a barrage of humanism, as in, he loves human beings in their natural state of existence. What is the probability of such a humanist devising Scenario 1? I'd say it hovers right about zero. 

Some people watch Hae-mi's pantomime and infer that she invents things and events that do not exist and perhaps cannot tell the difference. I think the pantomime has an entirely different meaning. It's about poverty, deprivation, and the absence of the things you need. Obviously, this is a feeling that Hae-mi and Jung-su share but Ben knows nothing about --- except that Ben too has the same feeling. We cannot pretend that what's lacking in HM's and JS's lives is not money. Their despair and shame and isolation, and their reluctance to engage in a full-blown romantic relationship, all have to do with their poverty in a city of casual wealth. And yet there is so much more missing, not the least family, not the least a meaning. JS's yearning for mother, and HM's yearning for anyone. Their most basic needs are not met, and the only way to keep life going is to "forget that it's not there." 

Ben has his own missing piece in life, and we can surmise that he too has a yearning for it. This absence is intolerable to him, and he refuses to tolerate it, unlike how HM and JS tolerate their unmet needs. Hence he burns greenhouses. In both the source materials (Faulkner and Murakami), it is barns that are burned, and barns symbolize food and wealth. Here, however, it is greenhouses, which symbolize life. Not quite the same thing. 

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As a co-owner of two cats, I just want to make a note about the "Schrodinger's cat" here. Is the cat a part of Hae-mi's imagination? Compare the two parallel scenes depicting its absence: When JS goes to feed it when HM is in Africa, he sees that the food and water bowls are empty, and the litterbox contains cat poop. When he goes back to the apartment after HM's disappearance, there were no bowls and no litterbox at all.

If there is poop, trust me, the cat is real.

The Ending of Le Samourai (1967), Explained

A quick online search after watching Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai confirmed my suspicion: The plot is very rarely understood b...