Blog Directory CineVerse: When is a movie like a poem? When it's titled "Poetry"

When is a movie like a poem? When it's titled "Poetry"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The group consensus at CineVerse last evening was that Poetry, the South Korean film by Lee Chang-dong, was a deeply insightful, moving film. Here are some of the thoughts generated by our group discussion on this movie:

HOW DOES POETRY STAND OUT AS A FILM THAT’S DIFFERENT, RARE AND MEMORABLE?
·       It has the ingredients for a clich├ęd Lifetime Channel type movie of the week—older woman coping with Alzheimer’s and her grandson’s crime—yet it doesn’t fall into any of the overwrought dramatic trappings of such a formula.
·       In fact, the realization that Mija has dementia isn’t given some big, dramatic, plot twist-like reveal, nor is the crime imbued with any formulaic elements of intrigue or mystery-solving or given any major repercussions.
·       Despite its heavy thematic elements, character sufferings and dark subject matter, this is a life-affirming film that showcases much visual and aural beauty. We’re shown the sweet and the bitter of life here.
·       It’s a foreign film rarity in that it’s a South Korean export (how many movies from that country have Americans seen?) that depicts a very different culture and society than we’re used to, one that appears heavily patriarchal, misogynistic and chauvinistic.
·       There is no proper film score; instead, there is a carefully accentuated sound design that makes us pay attention to the ambient aural universe this character inhabits.
·       How often do you see scenes of senior citizens in intimate relations?

HOW IS THIS FILM A POSSIBLE CRITIQUE OF SOUTH KOREAN SOCIETY AS MALE-DOMINATED, FEMALE-SUBMISSIVE? CAN YOU PROVIDE EXAMPLES OF THIS THEORY?
·       Consider how Mija is an overworked caregiver of males: first, her grandson, who has a spoiled, entitled attitude, must be bailed out for his crime; and the disabled older man she tends to, whom she offers herself sexually.
·       The 800-pound elephant in the room, of course, is the dead female student, who was sexually abused by a group of teenage boys before she commits suicide.
·       Mija is the sole woman among a group of fathers who gather together and make the decisions they feel are best for the group.
·       She is also badgered by the male reporter and turned off by the inappropriate sexual joking of the poetry writing male cop.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ESSENTIAL THEMES AT WORK IN POETRY?
·       Lack of communication.
·       The challenge to find beauty and truth in an ugly, cruel world, and the fact that it may not be so difficult after all, considering how we’re surrounded by beauty in nature as well as the inner beauty we’re capable of.
·       The word “poetry” is synonymous in this context to the search for truth and beauty, to closely examining and appreciating life, as Mija’s poetry teacher encourages.
o   Yet, human beings are increasingly abandoning these rewarding pursuits and asking fewer questions about life.
o   Thus, the film posits: Is poetry (the search for truth and beauty) relevant in the 21st century? Is the art of poetry (staying curious and inquisitive about life) dead?
o   This is possibly why Mija chooses to gratify the sexual urges of the old man she cares for: to truly empathize with and appreciate the suffering that the raped girl had to endure, Mija chooses to acquiesce to this man and study the situation, to really look at things, as her teacher had suggested.
o   Also, her ability to write poetry improves as the movie progresses, suggesting that she has, by the end of the film, achieved the ability to see things for their real beauty and truth.
o   Consider how she wasn’t able to see how the flowers in the doctor’s office were fake early on in the film; she couldn’t see the real beauty or truth in things until later.
·       Life is a dichotomy of bitter and sweet, ugly and beautiful, hard and soft, and the two opposites can quickly follow each other and alternate back and forth when you least expect it.
o   Director Lee Chang-dong said in an interview that “…life itself is beautiful but it’s also ugly, life is bright but it is also dark, there’s a lot of heaviness but also a lot of lightness. I wanted to have these different feelings together in one moment. An example is after a poem has been read, the next scene might be where something unpleasant occurs. I wanted to show that in real life, our lives have many different, complex elements.”

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR LEE CHANG-DONG
·       Green Fish
·       Oasis
·       Secret Sunshine

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