Release Year: 1998
Director: Ming-liang Tsai
Review: It's right before the millennium and something strange is happening in Taiwan. Amidst a constant downpour of rain a new disease has sprung up, turning people into cockroach like invalids. Despite evacuation order from the quarantine area, a few stubborn people stick around, refusing to leave. Two of these people, a woman downstairs and a man upstairs, are forced to interact when a plumber breaks a small hole in their floor. Director Ming-liang Tsai's 'The Hole' is a gritty examination of alienation set in a dystopian hell.
This being my second Tsai film, his motifs and film making style were already familiar. Like other Tsai films the lack of dialog was challenging for me, but it does underscore the director's favorite theme of alienation. Here the overwhelming feeling of loneliness was palpable. The atmosphere is bizarre. Everyone seems to be going about there lives, as if nothing has changed. The main male character (who is not named), gets up every morning and opens up his small shop. It is located in some kind of underground shopping mall, surrounded by dozens of other shops which have been shuttered. He seems unperturbed by the paucity of shoppers, and sits idly waiting as if this was normal even before the evacuation. The complete indifference to the presumably new occurrence of lack of social interaction highlights Tsai's apparent view that social estrangement is the norm.
Everyone in the film seems content to be alone, each in their own world trying to survive. When the hole is made, connecting the two main characters it creates a rift in this catatonic asceticism. The hole becomes a source of tension between the pair, both unwilling to have any sort of relationship. Apparently unable or unwilling to interact in a socially acceptable way they at first resort to harassing each other through the hole. Again, it shows Tsai's pessimistic view of social interaction when even two utterly lonely people resort to further alienating one another rather than embracing what could be their only chance at a relationship. What was surprising to me was that Tsai didn't revel in this theme, but rather turned it around, offering a hopeful outlook. The two form, albeit begrudgingly, a sort of camaraderie.
Furthering the suffocating feeling of isolation is the visual impact of the rain. Everything is wet in this movie. Water is constantly dripping everywhere, and even the wallpaper is falling off the walls from the moisture. For an unexplained reason it is constantly raining the entire film, and it seems like it has been for some time. Added the rain is the water that has dowsed the downstairs apartment from a broken pipe, which was the impetus of the plumber creating the hole. Everything looks drowned, uncomfortable and altogether miserable. The people resemble wet cats, as they try to maintain some sense of normalcy despite the devastation to their livelihood the epidemic has caused.