The piece seeks to visualize Elizabeth Freeman’s claim that “a bodily motion (a grasp, a clutch, a refusal to let go) might have something to do with knowing and making history” (Freeman xx). Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) exemplifies this relationship in its historical allegory of the Hong Kong handover. Through lingering slow-motion, deep textured colors, and stolen touches, the film expresses the intimacy and yearning at the heart of historical change. In the Mood for Love’s long influence can be seen in a trio of contemporary melodramas dealing with the queer experience of history: A Single Man (Ford, 2009), which expresses gay desire in the 1960s; Carol (Haynes, 2015), which expresses lesbian desire in the 1950s; and Moonlight (2016), which looks at gay desire over the course of a black man’s coming of age. Shadowy cars, red diners, and blue beaches reflect and refract between these films. These are the spaces where touch lingers and desire is felt in the form of romance.
“Of Love and Longing” emphasizes the way that the bodily motions of touch mobilize longing in history. Longing, a formal expression of erotics that produces belonging and persistence in time, complicates classical modes of narrating history through family, capital, and violence (Freeman 13). History and historical time are repeatedly associated with heteronormative and capitalist institutions that privilege “long-term, permanent arrangements between couples, especially those that include childrearing” and prioritize “forms of relation that can be tracked and documented over forms of relation that are ephemeral and ‘temporary’” (Halberstam 109). Often this history emphasizes the visual, the recordable, at the expense of the physical. These films suggest that desire is not ephemeral, but a very physical experience of time that is long in and of its intensity. The voiceover, originally a letter from Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett) to Terese Belivet (Rooney Mara), serves as an accompaniment to the visual reverberations of touch through these four films. Removed from its original narrative context, the voiceover emphasizes the films’ latent affinities with desire, touch, and time. Longing, the knowing and making of history, has as much to do with the physical presence of desire as it does with the historical record of the past.
Ford, Tom. A Single Man. Fade to Black Productions, 2009.
Freeman, Elizabeth. Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
Halberstam, J. Jack. Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal. Boston: Beacon Press, 2012.
Haynes, Todd. Carol. The Weinstein Company, 2015.
Jenkins, Barry. Moonlight. A24, 2016.
Wong, Kar-Wai. In the Mood for Love. Block 2 Pictures, 2000.
Allain Daigle is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research interests include film history and cinema technologies, especially in relationship to time and memory. He has previously published on nostalgia and Carol in Queer Studies in Media and Popular Culture, the mythology surrounding an alleged $25,000 bet on Muybridge's motion studies in Film History, and the 50mm lens in The Atlantic. He is currently working on his dissertation, which examines the cultural history of lens development in early cinema.