Like the Klimt painting “The Kiss” shown in the first sequence of the film, the story is told with a fragmented narrative—a collage of moments that make up their disjointed relationship. But what’s interesting about Milena and Alex is that even in the deepest moments of affection or love you can taste that hate is only a touch away. Their desire for one another is primal, a type of obsession that stems from the games lovers play and the incessant torture they inflict on one another—whether it’s a purposeful pain or simply a subconscious desire to hurt that which you love before it can hurt you.
In an article for the Criterion Collection, Richard Combs once desired their relationship as resembling “one of those impossible ball-in-a-maze puzzles—there are, in fact, two matching sets of these in the film—where he is drawn to her wildness and chaos and impelled to tame it, perhaps because he fears a matching chaos in himself. When he despairs that she’ll never change, she retorts, ‘If you weren’t who you are, I wouldn’t have to.’” Their love is a rare breed that is an absolute fury and a fire. It’s as if the two have transcended past affection and become a sort of conjoined wound that just won’t heal, constantly tearing and bleeding with lust and hatred. They wish death upon themselves and one other. “Leave and you kill me. Leave and I’m dead,” screams Milena in a manic fit of rage towards Alex.