Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Twists Keep On Coming at a Riveting Rate in Mother


There's so much to love in the work of Bong Joon-ho but I especially love how unpredictable they are. Any old hack can populate a story with all kinds of easy twists and turns but in the works of this auteur filmmaker, you can see the ideal manner in which to pull off unexpected storytelling turns. The twists in Joon-ho's work actually have a major impact on the story itself, for one thing, they're not just around for the sake of having twists, they tend to reinforce themes in the story (like the twists in Parasite or Snowpiercer) and especially to emphasize the complex sense of morality that runs throughout his entire filmography. For example, though he may be a fighter for the little guy and played by Captain America himself, the lead character of Snowpiercer is no typical stalwart protagonist. 

Before the film is done, though, he's eventually revealed to be a guy who has eaten people, even babies, to survive. That's a gutsy twist that reinforces how nothing is what it seems in this world while also being just an entertaining gut-punch of a development on its own terms. Those kinds of thoughtful twists are found in abundance in Mother, which, like earlier Bong Joon-ho movie Memories of Murder, begins with a murder. It looks like Yoon Do-joon (Won Bin) is the one behind this crime, at least, that's what the police have said under the suggestion of flimsy evidence. Do-joon's mom, known only as Mother (Kim Hye-ja), is convinced of her boy's innocence and decides to go on her own investigation for the truth. 

For the first two-thirds of Mother, the film follows its titular lead as she does her own private eye work to figure out what exactly happened to her son and the film proves to be plenty riveting, especially in the way it keeps peeling back layers of its mystery to reveal a far more complicated world than we initially expect. For instance, the woman Yoon Do-joon is accused of murdering, Moon Ah-jung (Moon Hee-ra) isn't just a corpse to kick the plot into gear, we eventually get to learn of her tragic life and perspective. Turns out, she's more than a dead body. She's a girl who was detached from her family and had to cling to incriminating photos of powerful people in order to get by. 

This lends a whole new layer of context to an early scene of Yong Do-joon following Moon Ah-jung home. It's already creepy behavior but once the film makes an explicit parallel between Do-joon's stalking and how men are always treating Moon Ah-jung poorly, an extra layer of tragedy is interwoven into the inciting incident of the plot. Similarly, a revelation of Mother trying to kill Yong Do-joon as a child to save him from how much they were suffering as a result of their poverty is a shocking development that recontextualizes the character of Mother from top-to-bottom. One would never have thought she'd be capable of such a thing prior to this scene but suddenly, all bets are off in regards to what Mother can do.

Throughout Mother, the audience is placed into the perspective of this character thanks to excellent camerawork that replicates the character's point-of-view. When she's trying to tiptoe across the cluttered room of a potential suspect in her investigation, we get to see things from her eyeballs and it makes an already intense scene all the more of a nail-biter. Mother is packed with that kind of thoughtfully-executed and captivating camerawork and that specific trick of placing the audience into the point-of-view of in-movie characters is utilized once again for perhaps its most gasp-inducing sequence involving us see seeing who actually killed Moon Ah-jung from the perspective of an old man trying to catch some sleep in a nearby building.

The choice to capture this critical scene in this specific matter is a brilliant choice, one truly feels like they're in this small cramped room watching the reveal that Yong Do-joon did, in fact, kill Moon Ah-jung. One can feel themselves catching their breath so as not to make a sound that could capture Yong Do-joon's attention, that's how immersed you get into the sequence. It's an absolutely exquisite sequence just in the way it's written alone but the way it film is just the icing on top of an already delectable cake. Mother constantly upends expectations (it even keeps doing that once the big murder revelation is revealed) on both a storytelling and visual level, in the process exemplifying the story of unpredictability that makes Bong Joon-ho's works such captivating and entertaining features.

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