PG-13, but that's, again, a bit of a stretch. This movie is so innocent that we actually woke up our nine-year-old to watch it. Then, our seven-year-old got jealous and we let him watch it as well. The most questionable stuff in this movie is a grandmother who swears in Korean occasionally and kids having to deal with the problems that come with aging. It's PG-13, but I would 100% let kids watch this movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Lee Isaac Chung
Just to show you how tiny my readership has gotten: I gained seven readers yesterday and it was a massive spike.
Oh man. How is it that the year that we weren't really supposed to have Academy Awards that we get a whole bunch of really good movies? Also, is A24 only able to make the most intense R-rated films or feel good movies about families making it in America? I kind of love this. For a long time, I was relishing that A24 was making these really over-the-top / gorgeous genre films that established horror as viable cinema. But then I started getting bored with A24. I didn't need things to be completely bleak all of the time. And I know that A24 never really shied away from non-horror cinema. It's just that a lot of those movies didn't really get the word of mouth that the other movies did.
It's nothing new to tell the story of the American Dream. Heck, I teach an American literature class and every book --unintentionally, mind you --I teach somehow is a commentary on the American Dream. Maybe we don't actively talk about the American Dream as much anymore. After all, Chung set his film during the Reagan administration, which feels more "American Dreamish" than 2021. But Chung kind of subverts expectations with this interpretation of the American Dream. By no mean does Chung imply that racism in America is over. There is some mild commentary about racism, mostly coming from the reactions of children to a sense of otherness. They never really experience active racism so much as ignorance and eventual acceptance. The more I think about it, that might be the major difference between the Reagan Republican presidency and the Trump Republican presidency. Both are --and this is me being more than generous --about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. But with the Reagan administration, it was so aggressively about immigrants trying to take America away from white people. So Minari celebrates the potentiality of America. I'm a little bummed that my initial analysis of the movie focuses on the goodness of white people, but it does seem to be a thing in the movie that could be confused with white knighting, but definitely isn't.
I don't really see this movie as a White Knight film. Will Patton is the heroic white character in the movie, but he's not exactly seen as the white man who has it all together. If anything, the movie portrays the typical white American as kind of good-natured, but buffoonish. He comes across as a religious zealot which reads as full on goofy, yet lovable. Yeah, sometimes I wish that religious devotion wouldn't come across as crazy pants, but I get in the times that we live in, that choice holds water. But he's this guy who really doesn't make the person of color succeed. Instead, Paul is a great voice for Jacob to sound off his frustrations. Paul is an innocent. He's invested in Jacob's farm because he's nice to a point of naivete. His role in the greater tapestry of the film is how darned simple he is, especially juxtaposed to the complex Jacob.
It's because Jacob is so conflicted that we watch a movie like this. Okay, we really watch for the sake of Soonja. But Jacob is both the protagonist of the piece and a spectator. Chung has two very intimate stories swirling around each other. We have Jacob, who is a father who has a dream. His dream forces him to drift further away from his family. Meanwhile, David has to learn to embrace his distant Korean background with the aging Soonja as the representative of that culture. With these intermixing stories, Chung gets to the point of the theme: Americana is real; it just doesn't look like we think it looks.
Jacob has moved his family to the middle of nowhere. John Steinbeck paints the beginning of a farming career as a ranch with chickens and, of course, rabbits. Chung paints the beginning of farming as a field that nobody wants with a trailer that looks like a death trap. It's not baseball and apple pie idealism that Jacob carries with him, but the stick-to-itiveness of Korea. It's hard work and stubbornness. There isn't a rooster or a sunrise in sight. There's no Cheerios box on the table. Instead, Jacob is dirty and surrounded by Paul, absurd looking at all times. Similarly, he both bonds with his son and distances himself from his son with this farm. It becomes not just a matter of survival in America, but a point of pride for him. After all, not only will his family starve if he is unable to make his crop grow; his wife will leave him as well. That is the phantom over the horizon. And that's where Chung's curveball really works.
Soonja seems to be the element that should be tearing husband and wife apart. When the husband's mother-in-law moves in, it almost acts like a confirmation of all of Jacob's fears. Monica wants to return to Korea and weaving the Korean lifestyle into David's life seems to be the thing to get that ball rolling. But Soonja, for all of her bad habits, actually kind of ends up being the most supporting element to Jacob's dreams. It's not like she gives him a free pass. She definitely makes him work for it. But watching David and Anne has represented the synthesis of two cultures coming together. David becomes more Korean. Soonja works to be more of the traditional American grandmother.
But Chung isn't about writing fairy tales. Yeah, there's a remarkably beautiful ending to the whole movie involving the titular minari. But we're forced to deal with the realities of aging while all of this goes on. Soonja's stroke almost shifts the entire film to a story of balancing priorities. The fact that Jacob and Monica's life just isn't put on hold because of Soonja's stroke is extremely telling. It isn't even really selfish that they don't devote all of their emotional energies to Soonja's rehabilitation. Instead, it's a game of Jenga. The entire tower is going to tip faster and, as an audience, we wonder what element is going to fall first. It's all very impressive.
I adored this movie. I absolutely loved it. I would be very happy for it to win. I mean, there's going to be jokes about Minari following up Parasite as a Best Picture winner, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.