In the Mood for Love, a romantic drama written and directed by Wong Kar-wai, opens with two couples moving into adjacent apartments. The scene is a chaotic web of movers shuffling through narrow hallways and people talking over one another. Su, the wife in one of the relationships, turns away a pair of movers because she claims that the furniture they carry belongs to Chow, the husband in the neighboring apartment. Chow does the same. With each one of these mix-ups, we get the sense that the new residents are physically entangling themselves in each other’s lives.

Space, or the lack of it, can be the defining feature of a relationship. Set in a cramped section of 1960s Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love tells the story of two neighbors, Chow and Su, who fall in love after realizing their spouses are cheating on them with one another. The film is not a romance story in the traditional sense; its plot is vague and nonlinear, utilizing repeated scenes that evoke déjà vu, and it’s often unclear whether an hour, day, or month has passed between two moments. Many scenes take place at night, casting the characters in the grungy yellow-green light of streetlamps, hotels, apartment buildings, and office spaces, whose harshness contributes to the film’s warping of reality. Chow and Su frequently appear from an obstructed point of view—through the haze of a dirty window, bars of a street fence, or reflection in a mirror—creating the poignant sensation of an outsider looking into their lives. Thus, the film constructs a dream-like atmosphere, as if its plot is but a distant memory in the characters’ minds, their emotions still vibrant and intense but the details long ago faded away. Perhaps the most unconventional aspect of this romance film is that the audience never sees the two leads make a physical move on one another—not even so much as a quick peck on the lips.

At first, the closeness between Chow and Su is exhilarating. We see the couple squeeze past each other in the narrow hallways of their apartment building, open the doors to their rooms side-by-side, and take shelter from the rain in an alleyway. The musical backdrop to the film is the composition “Yumeji’s Theme,” an instrumental piece full of intensity, pining, and dramatic violin. During these introductory scenes, “Yumeji’s Theme” makes the pair’s interactions feel tense and exciting, like the promise of a passionate love affair. After all, there is obvious chemistry between them. Given their proximity and the irony of their situation, how could they not give in?

We soon realize, however, that this will not be the case. Riddled with guilt, hesitant to become like their spouses, and worried about gossip from their nosy neighbors, the pair is painfully cautious about how they proceed with their relationship, even if their feelings for each other are undeniable. The audience soon realizes that even if something more passionate and profound is happening off-camera (though this is never explicitly alluded to), all they can see are the mundane moments that the couple shares: eating together, writing together, walking together, their shoulders side-by-side but never touching. Meanwhile, “Yumeji’s Theme” plays over and over, and soon begins to sound repetitive and monotonous, almost annoyingly so. As time goes on, the couple’s closeness, once exhilarating, has a sickening effect.

Reflecting on In the Mood For Love, I began thinking about what might have happened if Chow and Su had succumbed to their emotion and the way that physical space functions in my own life at Princeton. One of the first things I noticed as a freshman was how small Princeton begins to feel after a few months of living on campus. Despite having a decent number of options, I find myself gravitating to the same dining halls and study spots day after day, much like the repetitive scenes in In the Mood for Love. Every time I go out, I see someone I know, very often someone I don’t necessarily want to see. While this leads to some mild discomfort in my case, for others this can be a much more serious issue—I’ve seen how certain parts of the school become off-limits to those scared of running into people who can trigger painful memories. Despite looking very different aesthetically, this campus can feel just as claustrophobic as Hong Kong does in Wong’s film. During my freshman and sophomore years, I escaped campus at every opportunity. Back home, I could stretch my limbs, something impossible to do in my tiny dorm room. I could belt song lyrics at the top of my lungs, cook for myself, and go on walks without worrying about how I was being perceived by my peers. Now, in my junior year, I’m lucky enough to be in a slightly larger dorm room and share my space with roommates that I’m a lot more comfortable being myself around, but that nagging need for breathing room and true nakedness persists.

My relationship with physical space has become even more complicated ever since becoming romantically involved with someone on campus. Another important lesson I learned during my freshman year was how time can become warped in a college environment. I marveled at my friends’ relationships and how quickly they developed, at how much could happen in a week. Now I’m able to witness the catalyst and how deceptively simple it is firsthand: If two people like each other, and live a maximum of fifteen minutes away from each other, why wouldn’t they spend all their time together? After all, Princeton is a very difficult, emotionally taxing environment to exist in—to choose to navigate it alone is almost impossible. This is something we see a lot of in In the Mood for Love: Even in the face of obstacles such as nosy neighbors and personal guilt, Chow and Su still put in the effort to see each other as much as possible, sneaking around just to share a mundane bowl of noodles together. Unlike the adults in In the Mood for Love, most college students lack the desire to practice physical restraint. But maybe, the physicality of the relationship, or whether it has the opportunity to reach its full depths or not, doesn’t really matter. The claustrophobia that the couple in In the Mood for Love exudes initially seems like a result of their inaction despite their proximity and strong emotions for one another—a sick, physical irony. Instead, it could be the closeness itself that is the issue.

It’s easy to get swept along in the excitement of a new romance, but less easy to make the time and space to reflect on how you’re feeling, especially when this romance offers immediate relief from the other stressors in your life. Suddenly, you see the people around you in a new light. You empathize more with those who struggle to leave a toxic relationship and are less surprised when the couple that seems like they’ve been dating forever reveals that they’ve only been together for about a year. It seems as if we’ve all been thrust into this environment where we can experiment at being adults when just a few years ago we had to get our parents’ permission to have a sleepover. Looking forward, it’s hard to imagine what the repercussions of this experiment will be or how post-college life will differ.

It’s possible that navigating closeness is something that you never quite figure out. This is illustrated most clearly in In the Mood for Love when Chow and Su realize that their neighbors had occupied the common area while they were hanging out in Chow’s bedroom together. Panicked, Su decides to remain in Chow’s room until the coast is clear in order to avoid suspicion, which turns into a night-long ordeal. We see several consecutive scenes of Su lying on her side in Chow’s bed, still in her work dress from the previous day, with a blank expression on her face, Chow similarly slumped over in a nearby chair. The claustrophobia that the pair feels is palpable.

Perhaps the issue of closeness doesn’t go away even after we are freed from the confines of a small college campus. Instead, we create closeness for ourselves where there doesn’t need to be any. For instance, Su admits in the midst of her lockdown that they might have been too hasty in deciding that she shouldn’t come out of Chow’s room until their neighbors were gone. I also think of my sister, who lives in Brooklyn, about a 45-minute commute from her boyfriend in Manhattan. Despite the distance, they spend extended periods in each other’s apartments, days or weeks at a time. But the need for physical distance can become essential very quickly, and not having it as an option, as is the case at Princeton, can be detrimental to the way we grow, learn, and move on from our relationships.

Through a series of miscommunications and missed opportunities, the couple in In the Mood for Love part ways by the end of the film. Years later, when Chow returns to the apartment building that he shared with Su, he finds that everyone that had once lived there is long gone. Text appears on the screen: “That era has passed, nothing that belongs to it exists anymore.” Like Chow and Su’s tiny slice of Hong Kong, the close confines we experience at Princeton create memories so potent that they become tangible, permeating the physical campus. But eventually, we will leave this campus and the memories attached to it behind. I imagine that this displacement will form a unique lens, just as it did for the characters in Wong’s film, and when we look back at our time here, and the bonds that we formed, we’ll find it cast in a bittersweet, greenish hue.