Some time ago I watched Kim Ki-duk’s new film, Möbius. Let me start by saying, I had been well warned about Kim’s movies, but undeterred I decided to give it a go, especially after sampling some of his earlier works, namely 3-iron (empty house) and Samaritan Girl. However this sampling was not nearly enough to prepare me for the grotesque movie that unfolded in front of my eyes. Möbius is a deplorable, filthy, indictment to all that is good and pure in the world. It is visually and psychologically disturbing to the core.
If for instance you never want to visualize a scene whereby a father helps his penisless son masturbate violently with a rock, then you might want to avoid this movie. All that being said, I think there are some interesting messages in this movie that are worth some reflection. But if you don’t want spoilers stop reading now. Check this trailer…
The shear repulsion of the visual and at the same time psychological display, forces you to disconnect with the literal story. It is raw imagery with no dialogue giving a sense of presence but at the same time the mind cannot seem to accept it.
At the start of the movie, the cheating father (played by Cho Jae-hyun, e.g bad guy from Master God of Noodles) is avenged by the mother (Lee Eun-woo), not directly but by attacking and severing the penis of the son (Seo Young-joo). The father, devastated by what has happened, searches for other ways for his son to have sexual pleasure. He discovers several techniques, some involve scratching the skin until it is almost worn away and the other is cutting the self with a knife. Both of which are successful in their aim of sexual pleasure but they leave behind painful wounds, reminding us in the most violent way that “there is no pleasure without pain”. The odd thing to notice is that at no time in the movie did the son indicate that he wanted or needed this form of pleasure. His father forced this solution onto him.
The mother reappears later in the movie and can also manage give the son sexual pleasure. But again this is followed by pain and discomfort at a more emotional level. What I understand from this is that the father and the mother both had their ideas of pleasure or happiness, which they forced upon the child. Is this not what is faced by children all the time, particularly Korean children?! For Kim Kiduk, he is just retelling the usual story of a typical Korean boy, caught between the expectation of his parents and their idea of happiness. But he does not become truly happy until the end of the film when his parents die. Because in some sense we all must metaphorically or symbolically kill our parents, and thus kill their expectations, for it is only then that we can find our own way to pleasure and happiness in whatever form that takes.
[ I will add to this, that while Kim got so much right with this movie particularly the balance of dark comedy and serious issues, I feel there was one misjudgment. The young woman who was having the affair with the father, is at one point raped by the sons friends. Ki-duk’s use of this character seemed to imply a punishment for the extra-marital affair, however the woman goes on to later have consensual sex with one of the perpetrators. This did not sit well with me, for if you want to portray a female character as weak in that way, then she must be given more of an individual, nuanced, story and not just an aside. ]