October 17, 2009
Inasmuch as Life During Wartime explores the limits of forgiveness, Bong Joon-ho's Mother poses a sinister corollary in its tale of a parent's unwavering devotion to her child. The price exacted is prefigured in the opening shot of the impassive, titular mother (Kim Hye-Ja) wandering through the countryside with arms flailing to the rhythm of an imaginary dance. The sole provider and caretaker of Do-joon (Bin Won), her dimwitted, accident-prone adult son, she anxiously watches over him from across the window of her herb shop as he invariably gets himself into precarious situations. Sideswiped by a speeding car one day when he leans out into the street, Do-joon is goaded into chasing the occupants into a golf course to retaliate, even as he seems to have forgotten the reason for the pursuit. A trip to the police station leads to more confusion when the driver decides to file a complaint for vandalizing his car, and Do-joon is forced to pay for repairs when he is unable to remember who had caused the damage. Soon, Do-joon's pattern of short-term memory loss strikes a more somber tone when a schoolgirl is found murdered on the roof of a hillside building, and all clues seem to lead back to him. Suggesting a loose reconstitution of Bong's earlier film Memories of Murder in the pursuit of a handicapped suspect, Mother similarly subverts the crime fiction genre in its implication of national history in aberrant psychology. It is also in this context of repressed memories that Mother transcends the genre in its potent social commentary on the illusion of cultural amnesia as a way forward from traumatic, unreconciled history.