After the popularity of Parasite, Bong Joon ho’s work got appreciation worldwide but Mother (2009) is one of those hidden treasures that is not talked about enough. Mother (2009), in its briefest form, is about a widowed woman who tries to save her only son with an intellectual disability from imprisonment for a murder he didn’t commit. From what feels like a very typical genre film premise, Bong Joon-ho creates something extraordinary. A film that resonates with the viewer and leaves one in shock and awe that is indescribable.
Building the story of Mother 2009
Right at the start, we can see a mysterious dance performed by an old lady. She seems visceral to be taken lightly. The scenery is beautiful and the dance is slow and seducing. Her facial expressions are numb, cryptic and often sprinkles a tint of insanity. She goes back and forth with opposing facial expressions, by covering either her eyes or mouth to communicate quietly. We don’t get to see or figure out what is going on in her head. Is she transforming into something horrible or is she already one at this point?
As the title appears on screen we notice that now she is directly staring at the camera, while hiding her hand in her jacket. It is as if she is hiding something from the viewers, further reinforcing the sense of mystery. From here on this theme blossoms and takes hold of the story. That it is all about concealment.
Exploring the Theme of Concealment
From Act 1 until the very last interaction, the only thing we can be certain of is that the mother loves her son. We can identify over the course of her journey is that to love hurts, to love kills, to love distorts and to love conceals. The actress who plays the mother Kim Hye-ja, has a cliche image of the perfect mother figure in Korea. The love portrayed is truly momentous and often disregarded and treated as a cliche. Through everything that is quiet, delicate and unimposing, Bong Joon-ho hopes to and accomplishes to credit the most vibrantly unsettling energy there is.
This love cannot be a cliche. It is complicated, true, yet beautiful and moving. It sometimes brings tears, it sometimes forgives and it sometimes transforms into a sinister act of violence. Hence, it is not perfect. The mother had lied for better or for worse. She had tricked herself and her son to fight her fears and move forward to get to the end.
The full story remains untold because something or the other is always half-hidden. This odyssey changes from her wish for her son’s remembrance to the wish for his ability, and comes full circle and wraps up with her in a tour bus. She puts her needle in a secret spot that lets her forget all pain and suffering. And silence takes hold of the ending scene. Whether it actually worked or if she’s once again tricking herself isn’t clear. Either way, it will suffice. As she stands up and dances as she did in the beginning, it almost yells for all mothers’ need for guidance like they are to their children.