“The truth will set you free“, This is something Oh Dae-Su, the protagonist of the movie actually believes. Sealed away in prison for 15 years, Dae-Su relentlessly hunts down the man that put him there. He has to know the why about everything that happens to him; why any of the things happen to him and what did he do to deserve this fate. The interesting thing about Oldboy is the fact that Dae-Su’s “ignorance”, was in fact the thing keeping him free. In the end, his truth becomes a whole new prison.
In the film after having sex with Mi-do, Dae-Su says, “I am grateful for all those years spent in that prison“. He wonders whether he is the old Dae-Su and if Mi-do would still like him. The deeper message hidden in Park Chan-wook’s revenge masterpiece Oldboy is that Dae-su spends the majority of the film hunting down Lee Woo-jin, until his discovery of truth in the end.
Mi-do’s Truth in Oldboy
The biggest plot twist that we are presented in the end is Mi-do being Dae-Su’s daughter all along, who Woo-jin secretly raised. While Dae-Su spends his time trapped in a prison, he is subjected to hypnotic suggestions where Woo-jin implanted triggers meant to control him once he got free. Oldboy when it comes down to it is all about prisons and the truth.
Early in the film, Dae-su talks online with Woo-jin, who said, “How’s life in a bigger prison”. Now in the first view, we the audience interpret it in the same way as Dae-Su who does not know what to do in the outside world right now. About 20 minutes later Dae-Su says that “Maybe this bigger prison does not suit me very well”. With all of this leading to the conclusion, maybe not everything is good when it is known. It is better not to know sometimes.
After one has watched the film once, the audience realizes that all the time before the knowledge of truth was when Dae-su was actually “free”. When he gets to know the truth, he is in the “prison of truth”. Where on the one hand he is in love with his daughter, on the other, he is too disgusted to do anything about that. This only paralyzes his emotions between love and lust.
Woo-jin’s truth in Oldboy
Dae-Su was basically marinated for 15 years by Woo-Jin, meticulously and methodically all for the purpose of completing the plot. When we watch the movie for the first time, we were all led to believe that it’s Dae-Su’s revenge, but the revelation reveals that it was in fact Woo-Jin’s revenge after all. Woo-Jin lost his own sister, for which 15 years of imprisonment was to agonize Dae-Su. At the same time, he blocks Dae-Su’s contact with his own family (especially his own daughter, who becomes the main ingredient for Woo-Jin’s revenge). The glimpse of Woo-Jin in his elevator and his own suicide also shows us a glimpse of his own psyche. It also hints towards his own constant suffering. However, he chooses to linger on to his revenge for his sister’s death. Finally, he kills himself to follow his sister at last.
While the elements of this movie are fantasy, it is truthful in its depiction of revenge. Revenge does not lead to anything that brings vindication or glory. In fact, it only leads to more tragic consequences. Oh Dae-Su ends up having sex with his own daughter because he gets so consumed with exacting his revenge. He even stops caring about his daughter’s whereabouts.
However, a more tragic fate happens to Lee Woo-Jin. After extracting his perfect revenge he still ended up killing himself. Because at the end of the day, the past can never be undone. Nothing of what was lost can be brought back. His sorrow is still there and will continue to be there, there is no more place for him to go to.