Crossing Boundary: Symbol of Barrier, Imagery of Water, and the Third Space Formation. A Text Analysis on Your Name Engraved Herein
Poster of Your Name Engraved Herein. A Taiwanese film directed by Guang-Hui Liu.
I. Introduction 導言
As COVID-19 struck the world in 2020, revolutionizing the living way of humanity and destroying almost the whole box office around the world, Your Name Engraved Herein, directed by Taiwanese director, Guang-Hui Liu, marked as a graceful blossom in a downfall winter that brought a light of hope and warmth especially to the world of LGBT films in Taiwan. While reaching the first in Taiwan’s 2020 box office already shows its popularity (not to mention its categorization as gay film to ever surpass Taiwan’s highest box office in the history), the nomination of the “Best Cinematography” in 2020 Golden Horse Awards, the prestigious Taiwanese film festival and award in the Sinophone world, also demonstrates its cinematic achievement (Updated: the Best Cinematography Awards received). This article, as a consequential homage to the beauty of the film, aims at analyzing how the film, through representation of barrier symbols and utilization of water imagery, forms the Third Space in which the two protagonists build and develop relationship, finally to search for and/or surrender themselves by crossing boundaries, factual or virtual.
II. Boundary Formation and the Third Space 疆界的形塑與第三空間
In the film, boundaries are formed by the use of representation of multiple “barriers” which further provide a space for the formation of “Third Space,” where the two protagonists kindle, develop, and even ruin their relationship. According to Edward Soja’s definition in Third Space: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real and Imagined Places, Thirdspace is a “radically different way of looking at, interpreting and acting to change the embracing spatiality of human life.” As Firstspace is macroscopic and the factual mapping of a place, the Secondspace stands for its conceptualization. Moving a step further, Thirdspace encompasses the previous two as “radically open and openly radicalizable” for hybridization of emotions, experiences, and events. In this sense, the Thirdspaces formed by the barriers in the film are presented closed, exclusive, and thus meaningful for the characters’ emotional encounter and interaction.
School Fencing: Division between School (Norms and Order) and Outside World (Freedom)
The first and most obvious barrier symbol is the “school fence” that divides the characters’ world into two: School and Outside World. The school becomes the center for Chia-Han Chang (referred to as A-Han henceforth) and Buo-Te Wang (referred to as Birdy henceforth), the two students in the boy school, Werthers High School, in the age under the Martial Law in Taiwan (1949–1987). Norms and order are imposed on the campus, as the “dormitory supervisor” and “military instructor” are everywhere to invade students’ privacy and life as academic version of “public power” demonstration. As the diegesis moves on, however, the seemingly liberal Outside World reveals as a space for potential social threat, while the restricted world of campus may and could instead offer security and more exclusive Thirdspaces for the youthful lovebirds.
The school fence divides the characters’ world into “School” and the “Outside World.”
1. Barrier Symbols 阻隔象徵
Barbed Wire: Against Gender and Sexuality 鐵絲網：性別的阻絕
While A-Han looks through the female student zone through the barbed wire.
The first barrier symbol presented inside the school is the barbed wire used to separate the boys and the girls. The norms are reificated into the actual barbed wire; the two genders are parted strictly. The barbed wire not only stands for the norms and order required but also the public power of the faculty, as the military instructor enters and interrupts the student orchestra’s daily practice: the school is where “students study for college entrance exam and fulfill the obligation for rule obedience.” Nonetheless, as the story moves on, the orchestra turns out as a free space without the gender division and even further becomes where both homosexuality and heterosexuality blooms in the love triangle among A-Han, Birdy, and the female protagonist, BanBan. After all, the dividing barbed wire is just as what the Father puts, “ridiculous.”
Tree Fence: High School Subject Division 樹叢：高校分組的界線
Birdy peeks through the tree fence that divides him and A-Han, when the supervisor is telling A-Han’s mother for his compulsory transfer into Social Sciences Division.
Besides the barbed wire, the tree fence that separates A-Han and Birdy also divides their daily encounter: class division. It stands for the segregation of Taiwan’s high school Science Division or Social Sciences Division, as A-Han is in the former and Birdy the latter. The tree fence is shown when A-Han’s mother comes and listens to A-Han’s mentor’s announcement of his regrouping to Social Sciences Division which is considered inferior in the film’s background. Birdy peeps through the tree fence for A-Han. They were separated, while at last A-Han joins Birdy’s class, and the tree fence (the subject division) disappears, which further provides them time and space for their relationship development and acceleration.
2. Thirdspaces 第三空間
Swimming Pool and Underwater: First Encounter 泳池與水底：初相遇
The swimming pool is the first Thirdspace for A-Han and Birdy. It is the very start of their story, their encounter. They meet for the first time during P.E. class, where the Father teaches the students swimming. Although the swimming pool is not physically exclusive, it represents a limited spiritual Thirdspace for physical contact: the gaze, the observation, and the appreciation. The water then becomes the vehicle for their emotional exchange. When every student dives into the water, it provides a limited private space for A-Han’s voyeurism which, instead of quenching, “ignites” his desire deep in his heart.
Mosquito Net: Birth of Love 蚊帳：愛情的誕生
The mosquito net provides a spiritual space for A-Han and Birdy’s birth of love.
The second Thirdspace, similar to the swimming pool, is also a limited one, in the sense that the mosquito net above A-Han’s bed does not really separate them from his homophobic and bullying roommates, but conditionally forms a spiritual space where Birdy shares the walnuts he steals from dorm supervisor’s room. While the stealth symbolizes resistance to public power, the sharing is the manifestation of Birdy’s love. The shape stands for heart, while the peeling sound is the beating. Inside the heartbeat is the birth of their love. The Thirdspace of Mosquito Net also cinematographically juxtaposes the two: the physical company at last turns into psychology.
Shower Room 淋浴間
a. Impulse: Against Prejudice and Violence 衝動：對偏見與歧視的反抗
While A-Han holds back impulsive Birdy as violence avoidance but also connivance, Birdy’s nudity also allows direct physical contact of the two protagonists.
The first scene of shower room brings in the homophobic prejudice and violent bully in the school, when the junior student is being sexually mistreated by A-Han’s roommates. The symbol of barrier is also used in the construction of the shower room scene, as the wall of three sides and the door form a completely closed and thus exclusive space for A-Han and Birdy’s interaction. Again, while A-Han holds back impulsive Birdy as violence avoidance but also connivance, Birdy’s nudity also allows direct physical contact of the two protagonists. More specifically depicted in the novel, A-Han can even “feel Birdy’s raging heartbeat” in the embrace. The Thirdspace of shower room also gives place to their emotional exchange: this is when A-Han feels Birdy’s recklessness and courage against injustice and human downside, and this also reflects the allusion to the character in the 1984 film Birdy.
b. Sexual Enlightenment: Revelation and Recognition 性啟蒙：轉折與情感展現
Shower room as a Thirdspace for sexual enlightenment for both A-Han and Birdy.
On the other hand, the second scene in the shower room provides a much more intensive emotional and even physical exchange: sexual enlightenment as emotional revelation and recognition in the diegesis. This time no other people are included outside the room in the scene; only A-Han and Birdy are enclosed in the domain. The shower room becomes the private place for sexual behavior, and the extreme (even nearly violent) masturbation urges out the ejaculation of their true feelings. They hug; they kiss; they burst into tears while the warm water showers on both of them. This marks the film’s recognition of the two protagonists’ love for each other, despite its soon downfall in the aftermath.
1. Barrier Symbols 阻隔象徵
Barricade: National Homage 拒馬：國喪
Barricades are used as barriers in the scene when A-Han and Birdy go to Taipei for national homage to the deceased president. The barricade, like the school fencing, symbolizes the order and the restrictions, as the two students join the parade inside the barricade and put on their uniform which also stands for the norms imposed always on the two students while they are in school. Outside the barricade is the normal world with freedom which later on reveals also as potentially dangerous with social prejudice and conservatism that still lingers in the old Martial Law age.
Cascades are presented in the scene when the grown-up A-Han arrives in Montreal in behold of the Niagara Falls that, recounted through the mouth of the tour guide, separates the two countries of Canada and the United States. The division is again emphasized, and the two separated countries could be metaphorical of the two protagonists eventually parted by the destiny and one’s disability to embrace one’s true self. The addition of heart-breaking story of the aboriginal suicidal girl, on the other hand, deepens the melancholy brought by the waterfall that resembles the flowing tears.
2. Thirdspaces 第三空間
Theater Box: A-Han’s Realization and Recognition 影廳包廂：阿漢的領悟與情感實現
a. Development: Intellectual Exchange and Physical Manifestation of Love
A-Han kissing Birdy. This is the first time of his direct physical manifestation of his love toward Birdy.
Theater Box is the first exclusive Thirdspace where A-Han and Birdy perform their intellectual and hence spiritual exchange: they together watch the meaningfully alluding film Birdy, in which two male protagonists accompany each other through setbacks and hardship in life. In the novel and the eliminated sections in film, the relationship is even discussed around the topic of “love” under the echoing juxtaposition of the two couples. This is when A-Han realizes Birdy’s importance to him; this is the realization of his feelings manifested through the soft and tender kiss A-Han puts on Birdy’s lips.
b. The First Setback as Potential Social Threat in the Society: Exterior Invasion to Privacy
The theater clerk looks through the window of the box’s door for surveillance on A-Han and Birdy.
However, this kiss in the form of revealing bravery soon triggers potential threat in the outside world of society. Even without academic normal imposition, A-Han’s behavior is under surveillance of theater employee who directly interrupts the homosexuality taking place in the private Thirdspace. “Inappropriate behavior shall be prohibited here,” puts the theater employee to A-Han, in the sight of his manifestation of love. As the conservatism back in old age is still lingering while the Martial Law has just been lifted, homosexuality could only be considered “inappropriate” under the context, just like A-Han once tells Birdy after their failure in military song contest, “You thought the world has changed? No, it hasn’t. It’s still the same.”
Ferry Box: Birdy’s Compensatory Recognition 船艙包廂：Birdy的補償性情感展現
While the theater box stands as the Thirdspace for A-Han’s realization and revelation, the next Thirdspace presented, ferry box, is for Birdy’s. The Thirdspace takes place after the diegetical climax where A-Han and Birdy’s fight at A-Han’s place. Heartbroken, A-Han heads for “somewhere without Birdy’s existence” to Taiwan’s outlying island, Penghu. After the severe fight (both physical in school and mental at home), Birdy cannot but hold onto A-Han with embrace. He only wants to be with A-Han, hugging and sleeping with him. This is the revelation of Birdy’s guilt but also his love, with which, however, the prevailing cowardice brings forth the saddening end to their relationship.
Harbor and Beach: Last Reciprocal Confession 港口與海灘：最後的告白
Lastly, as the film comes to the end, the Ma-Gong Harbor and the beach is the last Thirdspace for A-Han and Birdy in their youth. Only the two exist in this domain, and the coastline is also one symbol of the barrier: it is the limitation of their life, as Birdy puts in response to A-Han, “You can’t go anywhere.” The escaping attempt could only bring forth failure. As the barrier symbols shows, the end is the sea water that prevents human being from marching without “bird wings.” The barrier, however, again allows the formation of an exclusive Thirdspace for the two heroes. This is the last place for their physical and psychological connection: they touch, they kiss, and they accept the truth that there will always lie the limit at the end in their life, and that is why Birdy could only surrender to the reality.
III. Imagery of Water in the Thirdspace: Swimming Pool, Shower Room, and Harbor
Interesting is also the use of “water imagery” in the film especially in the Thirdspaces, inside or outside the main background of school. The cinematographic representation of water diegetically echoes with the three Thirdspaces related to water: swimming pool, shower room, and the harbor, reflecting the two heroes’ relationship and their emotional collision. As important as the representation of water along the storyline, the use of “rain” in many other scenes also serves as what Greg M. Smith defines in Film Structure and the Emotion System as filmic “mood-cue approach” that keeps recalling the Thirdspaces adhered to the protagonists’ relationship development.
1. Swimming Pool: Water as Emotional Conduit for Voyeurism
A-Han gazes at Birdy (along with his body) under the water in the swimming pool.
In the swimming pool where A-Han and Birdy first meet each other, the pool water is confined in a closed space and thus calm and tranquil. Its harmony provides a peaceful setting for the development, and the water serves as a conduit for the flow of emotions and feelings between the two characters. Especially in the scene under water while A-Han opens up his eyes fixating on Birdy’s appearance, the water becomes the conduit of “gaze.” Only through the private and secure domain in the underwater could this fatal “homosexual gaze” take place and march all the way to the object of love.
2. Shower Room: Water and Vapor as Boiling Emotional Revelation
While the violent masturbation takes place, the water appears in the form of vapor that surrounds the two embracing protagonists.
In the second Thirdspace correlated to the water imagery, shower room, the water comes from the shower, hot and surrounded with misty vapor. The mist-like vapor creates a suffocating environment, in which the water in the form of vapor becomes conduit for the violent manifestation of A-Han and Birdy’s desire. Following the masturbation and ejaculation, when A-Han turns the shower on, the boiling emotions echoing with the vaporization condensates back to the flowing water onto both A-Han and Birdy’s bodies, accompanied by the two’s flowing tears and hybridization of emotions: love, affection, regret, and guilt, guilty as Birdy’s repetitive voices of “sorry” echoing in the shower room.
3. Harbor and Beach: Water as Emotional Mass and Limited Reality
Lastly at the harbor and beach, the water is no more calm as the pool or boiling as the vapor in the shower room. It is massed into the ocean surrounding the island and imprisoning the islandic inhabitants. Its mass represents the maximization of A-Han and Birdy’s love for each other, while it also virtualizes the limitation of the world, the norms, the restrictions, and even the prejudice imposed in the society that both of them cannot surpass. They make their final love in the seaside; they caress every inch of their body with affection on the beach, but they are no seagulls following them to Ma-Gong Harbor. A-Han fails at crossing the cliff since he has no wings, and Birdy embodies again the secular force by holding A-Han back to the beach.
Rain as Mood-Cue Approach, the Reminder: Balloon Stealth, Car Accident, and Telephone Booth
The representation of rain, also connected to the image of water, is, despite the lack of Thirdspace formation, used in the important scenes for A-Han and Birdy’s love dynamics. First of all, in the scene of grand balloon stealth, the rain showers also on the two characters’ faces. The effect of rain is especially emphasized when A-Han, looking up, tries to fix his eye on Birdy up in the air stealing the balloon. The rain pours on A-Han’s face, rendering it difficult for him to see clear and succeed in confessing his love to Birdy, who, on the other hand, keeps attempting to dodge A-Han’s bravery for crossing the boundary set by the traditional old era. With all the timings and opportunities spoiled, A-Han could only go back home on the scooter with despair on his look, soaked with the rain or his own tears.
The next scene showered in rain is the car accident in which Birdy breaks A-Han’s scooter on the street. While Birdy helplessly seats himself on the asphalt awaiting A-Han’s appearance, he is also completely soaked in the rain. The car accident and the destruction of A-Han’s scooter strengthens and ignites Birdy’s guilt toward A-Han, as he at that time has already decided to cross the boundary from homosexuality into heterosexuality and intentionally avoid A-Han. Nonetheless, Birdy still refuses/fails to get back to where he and A-Han together belonged. Like the rain in the grand balloon stealth scene, the rain represents the failure of the conveyance of their love.
The last scene where rain appears is the telephone booth where A-Han calls Birdy after their parting. Not able to express their true feelings to each other, what is left for them to do is say nothing but listen to the song A-Han plays for Birdy, with both of them again soaked in tears. The rain serves as mood-cue approach in these three scenes throughout the film to remind audience of its symbolization of tears and thus sadness that envelops their relationship and the boundary that they can never succeed in crossing. Both the image of water and the appearance of rain brings out the emotional development and revelation in the diegetical aspect and links all those important scenes together.
IV. Boundary Duality: Limitation, Crossing, and Protection
As boundary obstructs connection and divides spaces into two, it also provides occasions of Thirdspace formation for interaction. One can not only cross the boundary that creates the Thirdspace for further exploration or attempts, crossing the obstructing boundary conspiring to barriers could also bring forth rewards for desire, however, potentially at the cost of threats and setbacks at wider range in the outside world.
1. Crossing School Fencing: Freedom & Potential Danger
The first and most apparent boundary crossing is the beginning when Werthers students are crossing school fence to the outside world of society. The “Trumpet Band” by A-Han and his roommates crosses for freedom of desire and sex as they date female students from other high school and have sexual relationship in the cemetery. Birdy also crosses school fence in the evening for freedom for gluttony as he buys night snack back to the dorm. When A-Han and Birdy are out in Taipei for National Homage, “It’s so nice to be out here. We can do anything we want without surveillance,” says A-Han, which demonstrates the liberty that contrasts the restrictive norms back in school. They smoke; they steal posters in the theater; and they shout to the sky on the scooters at night in the street. It is in the free outside world that A-Han and Birdy are able to intensify their feelings and develop their relationship, even eventually manifesting their love to each other.
Crossing school fence shows as a way of challenging regulations and pursuing for freedom.
Crossing boundary of school fence brings them occasion for crossing the line of friendship and lovers, heterosexuality and homosexuality, while just as previously mentioned, on the other hand, the society could not only represent freedom but also the potential danger that the restrictive school cannot protect. That’s when the theater employee invades into their Thirdspace of theater box intruding and disrupting their affection, and when the police arrest the LGBT protester, Chia-Wei Chi, on the footbridge depriving his right to freedom and equality. This marks the first realization of the two high school lovebirds of the potential severity and limitation in the liberal outside world against their developing, hopeful pure love.
2. Opening Up Shower Room’s Door: Against but Exposure to Prejudice and Violence
Birdy showing his recklessness and courage against injustice and sexual bully.
Opening up the shower room’s door and stepping forward against the sexual bully is also a way of crossing physical boundary set by the room’s door. Not able to endure the bully against gay inferior student, Birdy eventually steps out and brings Skinny (Chen-Hung Shieh) away, as a strong contrast to A-Han’s cowardice and surrender to the mainstream heterosexual hegemony embodied by his roommates. Birdy’s courageous rescue of Skinny, nonetheless, as shown later in the film, also results in Da-Ba (main leader of A-Han’s roommates)’s hostility toward Birdy as well as his close relationship with A-Han that further leads to Birdy’s metaphorical jumping from the building.
3. Crossing Tree Fence: Surpassing School Division and Friendship
The tree fence, as previously analyzed, blocks away A-Han and Birdy who peeks through the crack when A-Han along with his mother is told of A-Han’s compulsory transfer from Science Division to Social Sciences one. In this scene, A-Han, contrary to the swimming pool scene, becomes the object of desire for Birdy’s gaze and voyeurism. Birdy performs his curiosity and care for A-Han, which supplements the swimming pool scene when A-Han also crosses the boundary of water (from the air down to underwater) just to watch Birdy with affectionate curiosity. A-Han being transferred to Birdy’s class, the tree fence disappears and their relationship moves closer, and this, unfortunately and even fatally, has caused the threat to A-Han’s roommates and classmates that represent the collectivist brotherhood in contrast to A-Han and Birdy’s exclusive, potential homosexuality: “I am now in the same class with Birdy. Why shouldn’t I be going with him but with you?” A-Han replies confidently to his roommates, while this has also led to the castration anxiety in the process of male bonding formation for them. A-Han’s elimination and his forming an exclusive close bonding with Birdy generates not only the anxiety of “extraction from brotherhood” but that of castration threatened by “homosexuality,” in which male also becomes desire of object as represented by A-Han and Birdy’s reciprocal voyeurism.
A-Han turning away from Da-Ba and his group for Birdy, as they are now in the same class.
4. Crossing Gender Division: Failure of Reaction to Homosexual Love
The iconic and symbolic scene when Birdy jumps down from the building into the female zone of the school. This marks his decision to enter the zone of heterosexuality with Ban-Ban from homosexuality with A-Han.
Lastly but most importantly, crossing gender division and limit could be seen and analyzed through Birdy’s jumping down from building into girls’ section as a result of Da-Ba’s counterattack to their castration anxiety. When Birdy is severely bullied by Da-Ba’s group, he resists, he fights back, and grabs onto the high transom window bars like a bird, howling, however, vainly toward the violent representation of imposing heterosexuality. This is why he eventually decides to jump down from the building with the flying gesture like a liberal bird into school’s female section and thus choosing to “retreat to the side of secular, hegemonic heterosexuality.”
Throughout the film so far, both A-Han and Birdy, in order to accept their own feelings toward each other, crosses boundaries for several times, including crossing school fencing into free outside world to get with each other enjoying their world of two, and crossing water surface and tree fence to convey their affection through voyeurism. While this time, Birdy’s crossing the building’s fence is instead an act, a manifestation of his incapability of “crossing the boundary of sexuality,” crossing the line between “heterosexual male-friendship” and “true love and feelings” he has toward A-Han. Just like what Birdy says at the near end of the film to A-Han when he tries to escape to the end of the world without Birdy’s existence, “Where else can you go? You can’t go anywhere.” The image of island, of his own country where he lives, is a grand metaphor of the final and biggest boundary that both two of them cannot cross: at the end of the very land will always be the vast ocean, and they are no fish to swim through and no bird to fly over. The water imagery becomes the metaphorical cruel reality in their life back in that age, and just as what being said in the previous chapter, as a mood-cue approach, it can only re-remind audience of their epic love as tragedy.
V. Conclusion 結語
Through the representation of barrier symbols, the use of water imagery, and the formation of Thirdspace, the film depicts two protagonists, A-Han and Birdy, crossing boundaries of school fence, water surface, tree fence, and building’s fence to respond to their surrounding domains and their feelings to each other in the course of their relationship. They watch their love happen, grow, develop and even quenched in the closed and exclusive Thirdspaces with physical, intellectual, and psychological exchange as well as interaction. As barriers could be crossed and conquered, boundaries, physical as ocean and metaphorical as sexuality, are nonetheless the line that both A-Han and Birdy can never cross and hence could only make the tragic epic out of this love. The film succeeds in diegetically recounting an epic love story against the whole world as set in the background of Martial Law in Taiwan, and cinematographically presenting two beautiful youths’ dynamics among each other and different scenes of barriers, boundaries, and spaces. Here’s to every person in love to ever overcome obstacles that lie ahead in the search of their love, and to every setback to be conquered by people with all sexualities and sexual orientations.
Here’s to the epic, to the film.