“Mother” by Joon-Ho Bong

1. How does your view of the main character change throughout the course of this film? What does this movie say about its the themes of motherhood and justice? And what do you think the mother’s small tin of acupuncture needles symbolizes?

"Mother" or "Here She Comes".  Well known for her passion for her son Do-joon, few realize how deep the passion of motherhood runs.  Photo from www.cinapse.com

“Mother” or “Here She Comes”. Well known for her passion for her son Do-joon, few realize how deep the passion of motherhood runs. Photo from www.cinapse.com

In the beginning of the film, “Mother” is almost a-typical of the many women I met when I was in Korea.   Her way of talking, her mannerisms and assurances, her expressions, were all very much the same as the older generation women that peddled food in the market-place and in the restaurants.     This familiarity was especially present whenever the character was stressed over her son, getting upset when he was heading off on the town, when he was leaving dinner before he had eaten as much as he needed.   When I was in the street market in the village outside the Camp my squadron was staying at you seemed to hear a lot of such calling and noise going on.   A very different world than the one I grew up in.   “Mother” is a little high strung, a bit of a nag on the boy, and doting on him constantly.   Always trying to hide his little quirks from others sight, as if they didn’t know he was different.

We never learn "her" name.  She is "Mother".  Photo by www.fatpie42.livejournal.com

We never learn “her” name. She is “Mother”. Photo by www.fatpie42.livejournal.com

As the film progresses, I don’t think this changes a great deal.   She is still the same, but the viewer looks deeper into what drives Mother and how her love for her son has had very deep, painful moments.   The wail that comes from her as Do-joon confronts her with the past is as emotion laden as when she cries out as he is hit by the Benz.   Love for this boy drivers her.   When she moves to kill the junkman, its not denial we are witnessing, but fear of the truth being brought to light.   She has weighed the value of the junkman vs. the value of her son and found the junkman (perhaps because of his link to the rice-girl) to be “not worth the dirt under my son’s toenails”.   Again I don’t think we are seeing anything different than we did in the innocent beginning just before the wealthy golfer’s Benz “whatever it is” screams by.   We are witnesses to the depth of the same emotions.   A mother whose sole purpose is to preserve her son.   So my view of her does not really change, although I found it interesting that as she woke to the realization she could not easily hide the junkman’s murder, she calls to her own mother, just for a brief moment.   A crack in an other wise formidable willpower.

She certainly isn’t the first parent to act viciously out of protection and she seems to see that her own advice to Do-joon, to strike back when taunted, has come full circle and “struck” back at the pair of them.   Throughout her amateur investigation, she is on track to seek justice for her son, until she meets the junkman.   The junkman’s story makes too much sense and he describes Do-joon in such a way that the tale rings true; Mother can verbally, but not mentally deny it.   “Mother” acts decisively, all guesswork gone.   She strikes for her son.   In the end, as she weighs the life of her son a second time, with the life of the jailed “JP”, she asks him if he has parents, “don’t you have a mother?”   His answer to her seals his fate.   She knows her son is guilty, as she now is as well.   But since JP has no mother to mourn for him, she keeps quiet and lets him take the wrap.   Her grief on his behalf is still present, even here, as a mother, it pains her a great deal to “cheat” justice with “JP’s” life.

Her box of needles.  A tin of memories.

Her box of needles. A tin of memories.

The tin of needles is like a little magic box.   Its a difficult thing to really “pin” down.   This woman who is apparently not taken very seriously seems to actually know a little about a lot of things.   Do-joon says, “what do you know?”, mocking her in child-like frustration and she acquiesces a reply saying in a mothering tone, “Yes, what does a mother know?”.   But she does.   She knows a lot and is able to bring the pieces together to keep her son from paying from the crime.   The box of needles is power to her. Serving as a source of income, it also serves to hide the unpleasant things in life.   It eases painful memory, it perhaps hid the truth from Do-joon about her attempt at dual suicide.   In the end of the story, as she realizes that Do-joon knows more than he lets on, it pulls her out of the shock she has had.   She is then able to participate in the community around her.   So the tin box is perhaps like Mother’s keeper of memories, of painful things best kept under the rug.

12 thoughts on ““Mother” by Joon-Ho Bong

  1. amymgauger

    Ooh, I like your description. I chose to answer the other discussion question because I don’t have Netflix and didn’t want to buy the movie, but now I just might do that. Without having actually seen the movie, I like the fact that you tie Mother’s box of needles to a keeper of unpleasant memories.

    Reply
    1. bdfleagle Post author

      I was reaching….I could think of anything better, but it made sense. Especially at the end when “Mother” sticks herself, and is then able to get up and go again. Not a bad movie.

      Reply
  2. sxkristoffersen

    After reading your post it makes me wish I had access to the movie, because it sounds like there were some powerful things happening. I also like how you connected the box of matches to keeping things under the rug. I haven’t seen the movie, but feel like I got a great idea about the purpose of the film from your post.

    Reply
    1. bdfleagle Post author

      I too debated as I didn’t have Netflix, nor did I want to buy the movie. But I really didn’t want to read anymore crazy tales. A good ole mystery suited me fine! Thanks for commenting!

      Reply
  3. smaldonadodiaz

    I think you did a great job, but I could not see the mother as just a protective mother that is preserving her son’s life. I think she also feels guilt about the reason why his son murders that girl, because she taught him wrongly. She taught him to attack anyone that insulted him. So, I think she was selfish and was just using motherhood as an excuse to be incompetent, selfish and not assume responsibilities for her mistakes.

    Reply
    1. bdfleagle Post author

      Yes, I can see where you’re coming from and certainly there is a measure of selfishness there. But a mother’s love is extremely powerful. My own mother is a quiet unassuming little woman, but I can remember her lightin’ up when there was an affront to her children that they hadn’t earned. Folks got out of her way then! So I can understand your view, but I agree only a little. I think it is a blend of motherly intensity with a little bit of guilt and whack-o tossed in.

      Reply
  4. Jared

    I had forgotten that quote, “What does a mother know?” It was a great rhetoric and you did well to point that out. Mother was quite resourceful in her endeavor and her determination was profound, right down to the part where she kills a man in a mindless rage, in order to hide the truth. I could see the tin being a source of power. I used the word salvation, but I think that we had the same concept in mind. Great overview.

    Reply
  5. bdfleagle Post author

    Salvation. That’s good too. Certainly it was a source of healing, if only in a abstract, artificial way. Thanks for commenting!

    Reply
  6. swhoke

    WOW, I feel like I need to expand my post by a page or two now. You did an excellent job explaining both the themes and your thoughts on the film. I also like how you picked photos from the film that seemed to show what you were describing.

    Reply
  7. sehoyos

    Great job! I really enjoyed all aspects of your analysis, particularly on the mother’s intentions and thought-process and what the tins represented. I also really liked that you tied in your own experiences, it gave some great insight. I have never been exposed to that culture, and it is very different from the ones I have grown up with.

    Reply
    1. bdfleagle Post author

      Thanks for your comments! The people in the East are fascinating and so very different from us that I think we tend to misunderstand motives and reasoning as we interact with them. Perhaps this is less so nowdays, as travel and technology have brought us exposure, but even as late as the nineties, stereotypes prevailed and perhaps a few have been confirmed. We are all very human, in spite of ourselves.

      Reply

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