Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Way Home

Janet had gotten a recommendation from someone on the API lists for a Korean movie, Jibeuro, or "The Way Home". So, with not much else packing our NetFlix list, we watched it. We already knew the premise and take-home message from the original post: a spoiled seven-year-old boy spends the summer with his mute grandmother, whom he comes to love and respect. And yet, that didn't lessen the impact of the film in the least.

I really liked this one. I had seen other Korean or Vietnamese movies that were made in the same style, with lots of less-than-picturesque countryside and very little dialog, and a very patient pace . . . but this was the first time it really seemed to fit the subject matter. When I first heard about a "mute grandmother," I thought for sure we were in for some kind of interpersonal "Karate Kid" kind of gimmicks: yeah, she might be mute, but she has a superhuman capacity to intuit needs and communicate in unspoken ways, right?

But instead of getting a disabled superhero (a la the blind Master Po in Kung Fu) we get something far more simple, subtle, and profound. There is nothing remarkable about what Grandmother does, so much as what she doesn't do. She doesn't fight the boy. She doesn't criticize. When he insults her, or breaks her chamber-pot, or steals her shoes or her hair-pin, there is no reaction. At first you marvel at it; "how can she be so unflappable?" But after a while you start to see things as she sees them. We see, in the boy's behavior, a problem to be solved. She doesn't. So instead of alternatively fighting him or ignoring him, as the boy's mother does, she just pays attention to him. She takes care of him, in the most utterly simple ways possible: she offers him food, she covers him with a blanket, she sits with him outside by the outhouse when he needs company. Her face is so utterly inscrutable, there is nothing to watch except the simple act itself.

If any of this was offered in self-consciously dramatic fashion, with a "Gift of the Magi" tragicness, I don't think the film would work. But that's the beauty of the film, and its bravery. It is willing to let Grandmother's actions speak for her. When all strife is absent, and only attention and service is present, the sense of love is overpowering. With this simplicity, with this beautiful non-action, you start to understand Love as something in action, not caused by emotion but causing it, not subject to circumstance, but eternal.

The boy's transformation is rendered with equal simplicity and realism. There is not the grand Hollywood epiphany. It's just like real parenting: he frustrates you endlessly, and then, suddenly, something clicks, and he's a little different.

As promised, this film is an elegant demonstration of the "unconditional parenting" approach. So many parents ask, "What do I say when they misbehave? What do I do?" And the film demonstrates, aptly, silently: do nothing. Say nothing. Just be there. That's enough.



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