Mother (마더) starts with the titular character dancing in a paddy field. There’s zero context to this and right off the bat the audience is left to wonder just what she’s doing and why she was there.
We’re then introduced to the characters. There’s the unnamed mother, a widow who lives alone with her intellectually disabled son, Dojoon. She makes a living selling medicinal herbs and giving unlicensed acupuncture to the town’s women. She speaks on ends about a mysterious meridian point that can ease your emotional turmoil. There’s also the morally gray Jintae, Dojoon’s only friend, who spends his days on the peripheries of crime. After Dojoon is knocked over by a black Mercedes, Jintae drags Dojoon along to exact revenge, only to throw him completely under the bus when they’re all sitting in the police station.
A shocking murder occurs soon after where a girl, Moon Ahjung, has her body left on the rooftop for all the town to see. The only clue to the murder is a golf ball with Dojoon’s name. Thus begins the story.
The burning question on everyone’s mind is obvious: Did Dojoon kill Moon Ahjung? Everyone in town seems to think so, after all, the golf ball is pretty damning evidence. Everyone except Mother. To her, Dojoon couldn’t hurt a fly. And so she begins her own quest to seek the truth and clear her son’s name.
What truly stands out in Mother is how believable veteran actress Kim Hyeja’s portrayal of Mother is. A mother’s love for her child knows no boundaries, and as you watch Mother’s slow (and frankly, uncomfortable) descent into madness, you never once stop to doubt the authenticity of her acting.
If you’ve watched Parasite, you’ll be familiar with the ever-present suspense interspersed with light amounts of humor. Mother is a Bong Joonho film through and through. There’s both pleasure and discomfort in watching her desperately attempt to right her son’s wrongs, only to realize that the only thing she’s trying to make amends for is herself. And just like in Parasite, things go from 0 to 100 in the last stretch. The film is made better through the grayscale remastering that provides an added level of suspense and forces you to pay attention to every minor detail.
Mother forces you to examine whether there are cases where the truth is better left untold. But above that, perhaps the greatest mystery of the film is whether or not the fabled meridian point actually exists.
Mother (Black and white remastered version) was screened as part of Asian Film Archive’s Faces of the Korean Woman programme. For more information on the schedule and programme line-up, head over to Asian Film Archive’s website or Facebook page.