auteur theory, broken families, castration, cheating husbands, Cho Jae-hyun, cinema, dual role, dysfunctional family, extreme films, father-son relationships, Film auteurs, film reviews, films, foreign films, graphic films, infidelity, insanity, Kim Jae-hong, Kim Jae-rok, Kim Ki-duk, kinky films, Korean films, Lee Eun-woo, Moebius, mother-son relationships, Movies, no dialogue, organ transplants, perversion, rape, S and M, sadomasochism, Seo Young-ju, sexual perversion, sexual violence, South Korea, unpleasant, writer-director-cinematographer-editor
There are a lot of ways you could describe South Korean auteur Kim Ki-Duk’s newest film, Moebius (2013): you could certainly toss out the terms “revolutionary,” “daring” and “brave,” as long as you also make room for “graphic,” “perverse,” and “unpleasant.” Calling the film “relentless” and “difficult” certainly seems apt, along with “eye-opening,” “raw” and “frightening.” It certainly is “colorful,” no two ways about it, although “deviant” also seems like a fairly apt term. No description could be complete without “dialogue-free,” although leave “silent” at home: Moebius is anything but. “Exquisitely made?” Absolutely. “Fun,” in any way, shape or form? Not on your life, bub…not in this one or the next.
Moebius concerns itself with the fate of an anonymous family which consists of the father (Cho Jae-hyun), mother (Lee Eun-woo) and teenage son (Seo Young-ju). Despite the film’s complete lack of dialogue, it’s pretty easy to pick up the main narrative thrust: to whit, the father has been having an affair with a local shopkeeper (also played by Lee Eun-woo) and his long-suffering wife has just found out about it. Needless to say, the wife isn’t happy about this particular development: to be more accurate, it appears to drive her more than a little mad. In a fit of passion, the wife takes up a large kitchen knife and decides to perform some “elective” surgery on her husband’s wayward manhood: he’s able to fight her off but her thirst for vengeance needs some sort of outlet. In a move that some might call “questionable,” the mother decides to go ahead and just castrate her son, instead: any port in a storm, right?
As can be expected, the mother’s action has a host of connected consequences, not the least of which is driving her son into the arms of her husband’s lover. As the father tries to deal with his guilt over his role in his son’s mutilation, the son tries to come to terms with the loss of his penis, a loss which can be particularly difficult to deal with when one is attempting to start a new romantic relationship. Never fear, however: the father has been busy researching alternate ways for his son to receive sexual pleasure and the shop-keeper is only too happy to assist. The particular method may rival anything in Cronenberg’s Crash (1996) in terms of sheer icky sexuality but, hey…the heart wants what it wants, eh?
To this incredibly toxic stew, be sure to add a crazy street gang, school-yard bullies, plenty of rape and attempted rape (male and female, both), incest, penis transplants, hallucinatory dream sequences, masturbation, S & M and the very embodiment of “violent sex.” If it seems like Moebius is pretty much one atrocity after another, like a perverse parade of deviance rolling down the main thoroughfare…well, in a way, it kind of is. There are some films that you enjoy and there are some films that you endure…without a doubt, Moebius belongs to the latter category.
In certain ways, Ki-duk’s film is a bit of a gimmick but one that’s exquisitely executed: from the first frame to the last, there’s isn’t a single spoken line of dialogue in the film’s entire 90 minute runtime. This is no silent film, mind you: we get all of the expected digetic sounds along with an effective musical score. This isn’t even a “fantasy” world where everyone is mute: there are numerous scenes where characters make or take phone calls: they just step outside so that we can’t hear anything, that’s all. In short, it’s a brilliant concept that could have been a complete disaster in execution but ends up working so remarkably well that it’s surprising it hasn’t really been done more. By its very nature, cinema is a visual medium but dialogue and “info dumps” have become such a disproportionately “important” aspect of modern cinema that it’s not only refreshing but damn right wonderful to experience a film that’s been completely stripped back to the visual element. Despite the fact that we never learn any of the characters names, it’s never particularly difficult to keep up with what’s going on: some of the more surreal latter-half occurrences may have benefited from a little explanation, all things considered, but I never felt so lost that I became frustrated. This, in itself, makes Moebius one of the more impressive films I’ve seen in some time. From a filmmaking perspective, Moebius is very well made, albeit in a no-frills style that actually compliments the visuals and themes.
On the other hand, Moebius is going to be an extremely tough sell for just about anyone other than extremely hardened, jaded filmgoers. Speaking for myself, I am absolutely not a shrinking violet when it comes to films: I’ve seen Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and Salo (1975), any number of Italian gore flicks and enough “video nasties” from the ’80s to drive a normal person crazy. I learned the difference between “real” and “fake” when I was a kid and have frequently been revolted by films but rarely truly disturbed. Moebius is a truly disturbing film. There were scenes here that not only managed to turn my stomach but fundamentally bother me: it’s no hyperbole to say that I’ll never be able to get a lot of this out of my head, similar to the atrocities I witnessed in Salo. It’s just a movie and I know that: the knowledge, however, did nothing whatsoever to convince my poor, addled mind once I was in the thick of things. Regardless of how “hardcore” audience members think they are, Moebius is the kind of film that delights in proving folks wrong: there is something in here, somewhere, that will offend and disgust just about every human on the face of the earth…some things will offend on a physical level, others on a moral level and still others on a larger, metaphysical level but make no mistake…you will be shaken to the core by what you see.
So…just what kind of person will enjoy Moebius? To be honest, I’d like to think that no one could possibly “enjoy” the film, even if I strongly feel that everyone should respect it. Kim Ki-duk is an absolutely uncompromising, revolutionary filmmaker, a virtually unstoppable force of nature who also happens to be a one-man wrecking crew (writer/director/cinematographer/editor) with a unique vision and no interest in holding audience hands whatsoever. Is there a greater point to Moebius than pure shock value? Absolutely: Ki-duk makes some very provocative comments about the destructive power of infidelity and Moebius can be read, in a way, as a detailed examination of the particular ways in which cheating in a marriage can destroy not only the trust and love between husband and wife but also between children and their parents. Of course, Moebius can also be read as a mind-blowing examination of the mutability of gender and identity (anytime you have the mistress and wife both played by the same actor, there’s obviously something deeper bubbling below the surface) or about the ways in which deviant sexuality can seem “normal” to those with no other options.
Moebius is a complex, fascinating film that also happens to be revolting, extreme, unpleasant and as far from a “crowd-pleaser” as possible. It’s feel-bad cinema, in the best possible way, and the perfect antidote for those days when everything just seems too sweet, nice and hopeful. If I was being conservative, I’d estimate that only about 5% of the entire film-going populace will actually be able to get through all 90 minutes here: this is no challenge to the “meek,” mind you, but simple fact. If you’re one of the few who wants to give it a try, know that Moebius is monumentally impressive filmmaking and just as much fun as getting a root canal with no anesthetic: don’t say I didn’t warn you.