Film & Media Studies Theory

Whitman College – FMS 387

Oh, Moms

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The 2009 South Korean drama Mother[1] follows an unnamed, aging widow (“Mother”) determined to prove the innocence of her intellectually disabled, 20-something son, Do-joon, who is accused of murdering of a local girl. The corpse is found atop a roof widely visible for the entire town to see, it’s presence fostering disgust and fear throughout the community. Julia Kristeva describes the reaction to the abject, saying “The corpse, seen without God and outside of science, is the utmost of abjection. It is death infecting life(Kristeva, 4).”  The desire for the corpse/abject’s removal(physically from the roof, mentally from the citizens), and the need for justice (the want to “name” and “destroy” the monstrous)[2] polarizes the subsequent police investigation, the town demanding swift punishment(to resolve, then forget the problem). Do-joon is the ideal suspect to take the blame(disabled, inactive, nondescript ,unknown; i.e. forgettable), arrested on circumstantial and inconclusive evidence, which his assigned lawyer inadequately refutes. His disability is taken advantage of by the police, who trick him into signing a confession without the consultation of his lawyer. His mother becomes his only advocate, the only person who can “understand” Do-joon’s handicap from a first hand(and, in turn, pointed) maternal perspective.

“Mother” is portrayed as overly doting through her complete engagement with the mother-child dyad, existing more as the lynchpin to Do-joon’s life(and maturation, or lack-there-of) than as a separate, functioning individual. Her child’s disability compels her to live vicariously through him, devoted to rectifying his any wrong. As the vessel that birthed him “different,” his mistakes will always be her mistakes, as she carries the intrinsic guilt of producing an “inferior” progeny(for the mother, the womb, to create imperfection, imparts guilt inwardly). By correcting, or attempting to correct, his any fault, the film makes “Mother” the “monstrous-feminine.” As described by Barbara Creed, “By refusing to relinquish* her hold on her child, she prevents it from taking its proper place relation to the Symbolic. Partly consumed by the desire to remain locked in a fruitful* relationship with the mother and partly terrified of separation, the child makes it easy to succumb to the comforting pleasure of dyadic relationship(Creed, 254).” Disability impels heightened maternal presence, especially during childhood’s formative years, but the film presents Do-joon’s mid-20’s dependency as a product of undeterred motherly attention and child-centric absorption. Do-joon’s growth is marred by his mother’s constant presence, her infant-nurturing nature continued into adulthood harming the development of his personality, his independence, and his relationship to society(the “Symbolic”).

The film often suggests(through thematic situations and scene specific tonal choices) this continually strong mother-child dyad may also have incestuous underpinnings. Kristeva states “the rituals of defilement and their derivatives, which, based on the feeling of abjection and all converging on the maternal, attempt to symbolize the other threat to the subject: that of being swamped by the dual relationship, thereby risking the loss not of a part(castration) but of the totality of his living being(Creed, 254).” Do-joon attempts to release his sexual pangs(avoiding the “dual relationship”) and to subsequently break free of maternal control by approaching a local girl known for promiscuity, hoping to assuage temptation with ease and without his mother(not presented as an explicitly conscious or subconscious decision in film). But the girl is not his mother, does not know how to treat him like she does, and whether he killed the girl or not, the ensuing altercation was compelled by his inability to create normal, physical/sexual relationships.

“Mother’s” continual nurturing and intervention in her son’s life have not allowed for distance, or individuality, to be created between Do-joon’s pre-birth (in womb) state, and his disabled contemporary state. No maternal-separation has happened, making “Mother” an incessant presence of “death infecting” Do-joon’s life, an explanation why he cannot progress or mature.

[1] Directed by Bong Joon-ho

[2] Creed, 262

* Words cut off in scanned article copy



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