Day and Night
Culture is full of binary concepts. Good and evil. Male and female. Mind and body (or was that body and soul?). These binaries condense the world so far they erase people and their messy realities. I have angry gut reactions against the ubiquity of trying to split things in half. Tale of Tales' Sunset, then, is a small miracle. My evidence that stories formed around the number two don't have to be cheap.
Duality is at the heart of everything.
Angela always cleans señor Ortega's apartment an hour before Sunset, witnessing the transition between day and night. It's a dramatic moment of beauty and instability. The fiery colours evoke the violence and passion of revolution:
"[Sunsets mimic] the bombs that fall, the passion you might develop for Ortega, the passion Ortega harbors for his country—the passion of the people out there fighting." Source
I watch the colours change, painting the apartment in oranges and reds, eventually giving way to deep shadows. Even in the darkest moments before the sun completely sets I find myself unwilling to switch on any lights. As the place becomes more familiar it's increasingly natural to move around in partial darkness.
Time's passing is inevitable, and in this equatorial place there's consistency to the diurnal transitions. Even so, it won't always feel the same. Sometimes there's a clear sense of loss as time slips through my fingers. An hour isn't long enough to finish everything I might want to do. On other evenings time feels abundant, or drags by slowly minute by minute. Splitting the concept of time in half to create day and night doesn't mean the boundary between the two is clean or consistent.
Reflections create the most obvious and consistent sense of duality. Angela stares back at me from all directions, in pools of water, full length windows, shiny mirrors and modern surfaces. It reminds me of Portal, in that some people were surprised when they first got to see themselves as Chell, mirrored in endless, looping wormholes. But in that case I barely noticed her. Here it's difficult to avoid, and creates a confusing split between self and other; player and avatar.
Day by day the line between us is blurred, the reflections becoming my own. I can sneak a moment to lie in the master bedroom, and watch myself in the mirrored ceiling. I like Angela, and many things about her outlook feel familiar. Being Angela feels like a natural transition. At the same time, what right do I have to inhabit a black woman's skin? For me it's just for a moment. I can cast her image aside whenever I choose. There are huge chunks of cultural history and experience I'll never have to engage with.
Whether it's right or not, the barrier that defines 'me' and 'not me' seems flimsy. As do many such barriers here. Ortega's apartment is like a wonderful secret place full of treasures, and providing sanctuary from the violence outside. But it's not a fortress, and can't promise safety or resist change. Reflective glass seems to project elements from inside out to the surrounding world, and vice versa. More tangible intrusions are unavoidable.
The core symbol at the centre of the story is Janus, the ancient Roman god of beginnings and transitions. Statues with two faces pointed simultaneously towards the past and the future (also perhaps towards peace and war). Angela can comment on these dual entities in her diary. She notes that Janus is often depicted with a male and female side, which we see in a prominent position at the top of the stairs. But she seems far more taken with a statue formed from two androgynous faces. Sides that are not presented as being in opposition, despite their different perspectives. A harmonious entity of two halves forming a whole.
There's something deeply appealing in the concept of falling in love with someone you've never met. Angela and Gabriel Ortega are arguably strangers, and yet seem to understand each other more intimately than many established couples. Facing in different directions, but linked by this place and the signs of the other having been here. It's a fantastical approach to romance (or friendship), but succeeds when evaluated in a way that's more symbolic than literal.
Angela and Gabriel maintain a kind of balance, but it's no more stable than any other binary here. The apartment is engaged a gradual tug of war between past and future. The clean lines and colours of modernist architecture are disrupted by an ever-growing eclectic art collection. It's a precarious attempt to preserve history and culture, stuck in the middle of a civil war.
A moment of destruction comes to shatter the apartment's sanctuary, not completely but more than enough to remove any illusion of safety or stability. The large stone faces of Janus crash onto the floor below. The remaining pieces are left without their sense of symmetry.
More practical concerns take over from beauty, as the furniture is pushed out of position and artwork is left stacked in crates. The apartment becomes more maze-like, navigating around awkwardly-positioned boxes. The architecture, though always suffering from style over function, shows up the extent of its impracticality when pushed to accommodate a different purpose.
It's easy to overlook, but through all of this the more androgynous version of Janus remains untouched. It suggests another version of reality where two sides doesn't have to equal conflict. It's a melancholy thought, from my futuristic perspective where we're maybe even further away from recognising the concept, let alone achieving it.