In the South, our protagonist, Lizzy, meets Arnie, a drunkard. She tends bar nights, both observer & accomplice. Days, she waits tables; she learns Arnie is a cop. He says it had been his last day of drinking; he also shows her his many sobriety chips; he’s often quit drinking. She wises up later. Those chips are not legal tender.
She then sees proud, intemperate Sue Lynne & begins to learn about Arnie’s desperation. One night, Sue storms in, cursing Arnie’s name for beating up her lover. He points out, adultery is not a safe vocation. She says she’s leaving town, & will get a job; he replies, she doesn’t need a job, only to start charging.
He insists she is still his wife, he her husband; she says he is nothing. He then abandons all dignity. He pulls his gun on her, but in the face of her contempt & a quiet question: What then?, dares not shoot her; he dies later that night. Lizzy later tells Sue she should pay his drinking debts. Sue flies into a rage, then tells Lizzy her story: A cop stopped her one night, she was high & underage. He later married her. Time & again she ran from him, then returned, & he loved her anyway. She insists she did not hate him.
She was not good for him. He gave her everything good, including forgiveness. None of it did her any good. He ended up with nothing. Sue says she did not love Arnie. Lack of love is how love caused the destruction: Sue may have concluded, the good is not loveable. Then again, if Arnie was good, why was he a slave to her beauty? What does that say about the worth of the good? The aftermath is comparatively uninteresting. Sue Lynne settles Arnie’s debts, which admits they were hers, & wants that he should be remembered. She finds life without him far more tolerable than he found life without her. Lovers die ugly deaths, beloveds endure.
Lizzy, like Sue Lynne, started wandering through America, because she could no longer live with a man. She shares Arnie’s jealousy. Erotic love is exclusive, but their beloveds took other lovers. Unlike him, in her anger, she repaid her suffering with suffering, but revenge seems to be an indifferent substitute for love. How did Lizzy survive the erotic failure that killed Arnie? Lizzy got mugged the night she left that man; she says she was never good at confrontation; presumably, that includes defense.
Maybe Lizzy learns that the laws cannot protect you from love. Everyone sees the unfolding drama of Arnie & Sue Lynne. Nobody does anything. Private life is secret, awful power.
Wong Kar Wai’s only film in English. A romance for the broken-hearted.