Ebbs of Nostalgia

I am a sucker for movies about loneliness, especially when that loneliness is set against the backdrop of the looming metropolis. This is probably a result of my having grown up on the novels of Bret Easton Ellis and and Jay MacInerney, paired with the cinema of Wong Kar Wai and Lino Brocka. It’s an acquired taste: friends and family have many times in the past mentioned the kinds of films I watch as – in a word – “boring”. But that’s sort of the point: in a modern world that promises progress and fulfillment, there is something tragically brilliant and magically disheartening about those that are left on the wayside.

Here are some of the notable films I’ve seen of late that fit this bill.

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (2014)


I saw this film a the recommendation of my friend Sean the morning after a night of drinks. Something about the brooding quiet and the dark cityscapes in this film makes it an especially good movie for mornings hung over, beside a capsule of Advil, some Pepsi, and a bowl of buttered popcorn.

Jake Gyllenhaal is on some next level shit with his acting in Nightcrawler (2014, dir. Dan Gilroy). All throughout his character Louis Bloom shines with a maniacal yet twisted alluring bravado. His long-winded tirades about selling yourself, learning everything online, and the workings of business give an ironic and backhanded reference to self-help and finance bros the likes of which have of late populated Youtube and Tik Tok.

I don’t think Nightcrawler very well fits with the theme of loneliness in the metropolis. But I have to mention it nevertheless for being quite possibly the best film I’ve seen of late. One has got to be just the right kind of twisted deep inside to be able to handle a job like Lou’s: driving around in the middle of the night, when the city is no longer a city, and instead transforms into a stage of mayhem and gore.

And Jake Gyllenhaal embodies that madness to the T. His dead stare, the brute force manner of his speech. The damned end of this film is apt to leave viewers with a heavy heart (and quite a number of my own did express feeling so), but at the same time, there really couldn’t have been a more proper ending. At the end of the day, that’s what Nightcrawler so good: there’s a formula to its despair.

Ayame Misaki as Misako in Radiance (2017)


“Sometimes, people die when they would rather live. And people live when they would rather die. That’s what it means to be human.”

Here is another movie I discovered on Mubi* (man that subscription is so worth it). Radiance (2017, dir. Naomi Kawase) has everything I love in a film: it’s quiet, and isn’t afraid to set its own pace: giving the time and space to develop its musicality and narrative.

That being said, the film isn’t without its shortcomings. There’s one too many sunset shots (the film is called “Radiance” after all) and shots tend to linger too long in its attempt to deliver on its promised visual poetry. (Is this ironic, for a movie that’s about the struggles of the visually impaired?) But thanks to a stunning concept, and deft acting by leads Masatoshi Nagase and Ayame Misaki, Radiance still manages to be a cinematic treat.

We Couldn’t Become Adults (2021)

We Couldn’t Become Adults

Another Netflix entry. Tonally, We Couldn’t Become Adults (2021, dir. Yoshihiro Mori) is a mess. Scenes oscillate from nostalgic, to modern, to retro, without much regard for narrative cohesion. We are introduced to Sato (Mirai Moriyama) in 2020, already in his forties, making an inventory of his life after passing by the lane that witnessed his separation with his first ex-girlfriend. From there, we move backwards, to his waning thirties, his golden twenties, framed within the relationships that shaped his life.

Really my biggest complaint with this film is that it doesn’t know when to stop. At the first half hour, the film is bittersweet, framing scenes of Sato’s past lives in a novel that Sato is writing in the present, the novel Sato once believed he could never write.

One interesting highlight is following the development of X, the graphic design studio where Sato and Sekiguchi dedicate their youths. A character with connections to the mafia is mysteriously introduced without explanations dying at a shootout at an apartment in downtown Tokyo, only to be later re-introduced as a passing stranger that once lent a helping hand to a wounded Sato. His story in tangent with Sato’s relatively boring life is one that can only develop in this direction: backwards in time. At his death, even Sato hardly turns his head at hearing the news report of his death.

Before the first one hour mark, the flowering and withering of Sato’s youth feels complete, and the film seems about ready to conclude. But director Yoshihiro isn’t done yet: the film suddenly switches gears, exploring the young love between Sato and his first girlfriend, Kaori Kato.

Sumire as Soo in We Couldn’t Become Adults (2021)

Despite my disappointments with Adults, the film continues to hold something of a special spot in my heart for carrying probably the one theme with which cinema never fails: of loneliness in the city, of broken people wandering the streets of glass and neon, old souls left behind by the new world around them.

Also, thanks to this film, I now have a new celebrity crush in Sumire.

*Not sponsored. Although, Goddam, wouldn’t that be awesome? Maybe one day.

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