The last two days, I’ve been stir crazy with the need to leave the house and shake out the funk I was in. I thought how I felt was a result of being cooped up indoors so I decided a day downtown chilling with myself sounded like a great remedy. I ate a crêpe. I walked a few blocks to take in the gorgeous day. I even used a free ticket to treat myself to a movie. Even after doing all of that and feeling pretty good as it was happening, I came home and immediately felt…unhappy.
It’s the kind of unhappiness that sits in your chest and is alleviated slightly by crying it out. When I usually use “unhappy”, it’s in regards to a specific thing that I can point to. A job has made me unhappy. People have made me unhappy. News and events have made me unhappy. These are all things that I am aware of and can change because of this awareness (well, those within my power. I can’t make things like Scarlet Johansson being cast in Ghost in The Shell not happen).
I’ve realized this current unhappiness has to do with my life overall. I got a rejection a few days ago that I thought I didn’t care about until realized that I really did. It wasn’t the rejection of that particular thing (I didn’t care about it) but what that rejection signified. I feel stalled in life and the longer I’m in this state, the more this unhappiness persists. It’s the first time I’ve felt so generally unhappy. I feel like a failure and even though I’m aware that I’m not, my feelings aren’t exactly co-operating with that fun little nugget of truth.
Now how does this play into New York, New York the film I watched today directed by Luo Dong? Well, it tackles the theme of unhappiness or chasing after happiness.
It’s 1994 and Lu Tu is the youngest concierge ever at five-star Chinese hotel; smart, loyal and honest, he’s respected by his fellow employees and lauded by his superiors. When he’s tempted with an invitation to run a new hotel in the Big Apple, everyone around him looks to take advantage of the move, including a love interest who may not be as trustworthy as she seems.
Beware of minor spoilers
A lot of the characters in the film wanted a ticket to New York where they could have the chance of a better life than what they had in Shanghai. Juan is one of these characters whose life as a beautiful woman meant needing to use men to get ahead or obtain a decent living. She says something interesting to Lu Tu that I’ll paraphrase: If you’re ugly, you’re shunned. If you’re beautiful, you are for sale. It’s only through being rich that you can be free. Even when she’s with a someone who makes her happy like Lu Tu, she’s still unhappy. In Shanghai, he’s someone who is respected and envied whereas Juan is constantly up for sale. For her, New York represents the only place where she hopes to be considered his equal.
People can read the film as Juan going after an illusion of happiness and giving up real happiness (Lu Tu). However, I read the film as Juan taking a step in recognizing her unhappiness and being brave enough to do something about it. I’ve learned not too long ago that happiness is something you need to constantly strive for and that it isn’t a stationary feeling. It comes and goes. It can sneak up on you and disappear while you wonder if it’ll ever return. Happiness is different for everyone and we try to avoid the wave of unhappiness or try to ride it so it doesn’t completely crush us. After everything that happened in the film, did Juan find her happiness? I don’t know but she did something about that initial unhappiness. She went after being happy.
New York, New York was a beautiful film with some fantastic cinematography and great music. I highly recommend it if you’re lucky enough to have a theatre playing it. As for me, I’m glad to name the feeling inside me and now I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.
Writing this post was a start.