Though I’ve long considered myself a passionate student and vigorous consumer of cinema, its vastness continues to leave me in awe. Regardless of how many films I try to see, there will always be new and exciting works and creators to discover. I say this because, although Moebius marks his nineteenth feature, until recently I was completely unaware of Kim Ki-duk. I found this rather frustrating since, five minutes into watching his latest provocative endeavor, I realized that he is a filmmaker I should know. That said, I cannot report in all honestly that I particularly liked this film.
Moebius is rather small in its narrative scope, essentially revolving around four characters: a teenage boy, his mother and father, and his father’s mistress. Not wasting any time, in the first 10 minutes we are met with scenes of domestic abuse, infidelity, voyeurism, castration, and penile transplantation. I’d rather not divulge any more details regarding the plot, as I get the sense that Kim would rather you experience this tale as cold and untainted as possible.
I always hate to use the word “gimmick,” which always tends to imply something cheap and without substantiated purpose, so let’s say that the “hook” Kim injects into his twisted story is the complete absence of dialogue throughout. I can only assume this decision comes from a place of experimentation, along with a desire to create a bit of originality in the execution of the story. That said, the inherent difficulty in attempting to create something unique is that it is often met with very polarizing responses. There are those that will reject your efforts because the film you made does not fit into the box that they believe cinema exists within. Or perhaps a particular method has not been used before simply because it does not work. The question is, does this deliberate and specific choice of imposing an unorthodox narrative tool add or detract from the film as a whole?
Admittedly, this is something I struggle with and am always very conscious of in my own films. As an audience member, the thing I seem to appreciate the most these days is when a story surprises me. We’ve now been filmgoers for several generations, and I believe audiences have started to become quite savvy as to how a movie unfolds. Generally speaking, it has become quite easy to deduce in the first few minutes who the characters are, their motivations, their relationships with one another, and what the basic arc of the story will be. So I appreciate when a filmmaker has something unique to say, or at least a unique way of saying it.
Of course, when you create something unique you must also justify these changes within the context of the story you want to tell. To make the audience feel like this particular story could not have been told in any other way. This, to me, is where Moebius struggles. Without the use of dialogue, you are forced to keep your story very simple in order to avoid inevitable audience confusion. Obviously there are examples of spectacular feats in silent cinema. But at its heart this film is a small character drama. The lack of speech seems to create a disconnect between the audience and characters, and instead we essentially get a collection of short, very forced scenes of people either looking at or away from each other. True, the subject matter can be intense and, I’m sure, quite disturbing to many out there, but these shocking moments seem only to serve as glue for a very simple storyline that isn’t altogether interesting to begin with
This is where I went through a great deal of conflict while writing this review. Kim is obviously a filmmaker with guts, unafraid of experimenting and challenging the audience. I’ve always respected filmmakers who take chances, who tackle the darkest, most difficult subjects and attempt to execute them in intelligent, interesting, even beautiful ways. This is never something I will claim to have achieved in my own work, but it is certainly always something I’m striving for. Kim is without a doubt a filmmaker who takes risks. The types of risks that continue to inspire me, so I’m very much looking forward to going back and discovering more of his films.
Lastly, the experience of watching Moebius added to an ongoing conversation I’ve been having with myself about when and where the use of shocking moments are appropriate in cinema. Certainly a lot of the awareness of my most recent film, Proxy, came from the brutal moments that happen early on in the film. Telling an audience that a film is potentially disturbing or shocking is almost daring them to watch, and it gets people talking. Creating this awareness is incredibly vital to an independent film in a time where making a movie is not nearly as difficult as letting the world know it even exists when it’s finished. I think we all strive to make “that scene.” The one that affects the audience on a primal level. For me, the worst reaction an audience can give is “That was OK.” In other words, instantly forgettable. Disposable.
So is there a line? Can you push the audience too far? When is it challenging and when is it gratuitous? I don’t know. But I assume the answer has to do with the way that one comedy can make some people laugh and others not, a drama can make this person cry and the one next to them bored, or a horror film scares this guy while it sends another guy to sleep. If I’ve learned anything as a filmmaker, it’s that you cannot control individual taste and perspective. The best you can do is trust your instincts and make the film that you yourself would want to see.