First, I am a layperson when it comes to my analysis of this film and second, it is the product of my elder son (yet trying to remain objective), but this is a brief overview of the film and its meanings and symbolism. It is important to note that some might interpret this film differently and might say that I am completely off-base.
The collaborator is musician Danny Cohen (and Easton Gruber), from Chicago who developed a score for the film based on a summary of what the film was about and the proposed direction for the narrative. The score was to be reminiscent of the Chinese culture, yet modern in instrumentation. There were many versions of the film (shorter versions and trailers), but the film and soundtrack are inseparable and they tell a common story. There are many parts to the film, overlapping themes, overtones, political commentary and film theory that I cannot begin to understand. Color also has symbolism. In the broadest sense, this film has three parts: meditation, transition (with free-style voiceover) and a lucid dream.
shangrila link (video below): https://vimeo.com/36822506
I encourage viewing in full screen mode with headphones or higher quality speakers.
Rather than a scene by scene description, I’ll offer an overview. Red represents China, Communism and deaths caused at the hands of Chinese Government either through oppression of minority cultures (such as the Uyghr culture), population displacement, and the rise of the China as an industrial power. Orange represents Chinese culture and religious heritage. Green is the environment, which is at risk due to industrialization and development (government and private), yet still has a strong presence and importance thanks to its foundations in ancient Chinese culture and identity. Blue is the coming of the darkness, and the transition from natural to artificial. It is a lucid dream of a trip through China and the people and sights encountered (and note how people look away from cameras, as a reaction to the feeling of their being watched by their own government–surveillance). Yet, there is strength in anonymity and hope that it will champion over authoritarianism.
Throughout the film, in particular during the meditation portion, as with Kubrick’s work, central light and symmetry are strong. Various points in the meditation scenes serve as focal points for meditation, such as a blue dot on a shoe or an orange carp in a pond. During the meditation scenes, in many shots, there were thousands of people present, yet from the camera’s point of view, one is alone in the contemplation of the view. Some of the views are memories of other places and the familiarity of a mountainscape in China resembling the Adirondack Mountains in New York State, in America.
Some might note the homage to Apocalypse Now and the wasteland of the riverscape that has been greatly affected by industrialization and pollution from enormous factories–the travesty of the results, yet the beauty of the silence (as it passes from right to left). Also of note is the massive change in the land and rivers as a result of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam (note the drop of the water in the high-walled scene as entire land areas are altered by this project). The water is a river of blood, the blood of millions of Chinese who have given their lives through revolution, relocation, destruction and ethnic oppression.
Throughout the dream there is a mix of visual memories of the Chinese people living in their society, developing an identity, yet remaining anonymous due to their authoritarian surroundings. Gradually the lucid dream of the massive cities, people and surroundings dissolves from reality (with an homage to the film Taxi Driver) into a trip between the Earth (Solaris – Tarkovsky 1972) and the Universe (2001 – Kubrick 1968) as the images of humanity dissolve and fade to white.
I am interested in your interpretations too and hope you enjoy it.