By Laura Murphy. Words are slipping through holes in Mija’s memory as she struggles to care for her careless and unruly grandson, Wook.
By Laura Murphy
Words are slipping through holes in Mija’s memory as she struggles to care for her careless and unruly grandson, Wook.
After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Mija finds solace by enrolling herself in a poetry class, where she’s taught to examine the world more carefully and find the beauty in everything around her, including the kitchen sink. The singular task of completing her very first poem seems a vast challenge as her world starts to dissolve both within and without. When a schoolgirl is found dead in a river having committed suicide after being gang-raped by a group of schoolboys, the news affects Mija drastically, even before she learns of Wook’s involvement. The suicide reveals more than just the fate of Wook but also the fate of Mija as her failing body and mind leave her distressed, struggling with secrecy and decisions of morality.
Lee’s beautiful, agonising story progresses calmly as Mija is forced to confront Wook’s irreconcilable actions as well as tackling the domineering male world around her, addressing loss and mourning through the form of a dying art: poetry. Written specifically for actress Jun Junghee (absent from the screen for over 15 year), her grace and subtlety brings sincerity to the dramatic and uncomfortable scenes of the film, illustrating the complexity of Mija’s state of mind as we, the audience, are made to watch, excruciatingly, as she surrenders her body to satisfy the sexual needs of a crude and dying man. Earlier scenes, show Mija in deep contemplation by the river where the schoolgirl was found, Lee’s intelligent juxtaposition evoking her emotional distress. Mija’s intentions for this ‘last deed’, along with the actions that later determine the fate of her grandson, are merely hinted at throughout, cleverly leaving the thought process to the audience.
Director Chang-dong Lee understands the need for calculated calm whilst analysing the violent commotion experienced within oneself, just as poetry was made to be. This is exactly how Lee manages to stand out amongst the mainstream trend of sensationalised melodramas. Lee has commented himself that it is a “film with a lot of empty space that can be filled in by the audience.” This space seems intended for the inevitable deliberation of the audience, as well as the characters, in times of trouble. Lee’s successful convolution of beautiful landscapes, loss and sorrow brings together a quiescent story with heartbreaking performances.