I’ve said before that Joon-Ho Bong’s The Host is probably the second-best creature flick I’ve ever seen, trailing only Jaws. I’ve also previously expressed my affection for Bong’s Snowpiercer, a nice piece of sci-fi cinema.
But somehow I’d missed what might be Bong’s finest work so far, 2009’s Mother. The movie opens with titular mother, played magnificently by Hye-ja Kim (pictured above), standing in a field of wheat, dancing dreamily and emotionless, no one around to witness this except the viewers.
Upon seeing this, I immediately thought of Twin Peaks, the soon-to-be revived serial soap co-created by cinematic super-freak David Lynch. Whether it’s Audrey dancing by herself in the Double R or Leland crying and pleading for someone to be his partner at the bar of the Great Northern, Twin Peaks is my screen reference for all things related to weird dancing. Between the music and Kim’s movements, it seemed like it could have been pulled straight from the show.
As Mother unfolded, it continued to remind me a lot of Twin Peaks and what is probably regarded as Lynch’s greatest cinematic achievement, Blue Velvet. Both of Lynch’s creations deal with smashing the American, small-town mythos. America’s small towns are really not what Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show would have you believe. Yes, the serene, exterior perfection isn’t hard to find in the burgs and hamlets of the good ol’ U, S of A. But what lies underneath that facade is shadowy and disturbing, made more so because those who live there do their best to keep up the front and ignore the darkness.
Mother has a lot of that, the exposure of hidden sins in what happens to be a near-perfect place to live. Everyone knows everyone, the murder rate is nearly non-existent, eccentrics can be left to their own devices, even flourish in their own way. But as mother tries to clear her son of the murder he has been accused of, we see the classism, the small-town snark, corruption, bullying, underage prostitution, all of this which everyone seems to know is happening but refuses to confront in any meaningful way. Even those who appear to be innocents, as the tale unfolds, we find those people to be just as bad or worse than those in power.
The Host and Snowpiercer are flashier and more accessible, particularly for western audiences. But Mother is a work of great nuance and substance, signifying the work of someone who has greater depths to delve into. I can’t wait to see where Bong take audiences next.