Minari is a once-in-a-lifetime movie about what happens when an immigrant family comes to live in the states, where they adopt American values into their way of living whether they want to or not. It depicts the truth of what it’s like to live as a child as well as to live as a parent, even going to the extent of showing accurately what it’s like to live as a grandparent who seems to have given up on living. To go further, it depicts what it’s like to live as an American in the past and in the present, and it depicts what it’s like to live as a Korean in the past and in the present. In other words, it’s a movie about living.
Right away it starts with a setup I guarantee a lot of people will instantly connect to: a family of four moves into a trailer home that doesn’t even have stairs to get into, you have to climb up since it’s elevated on cinderblocks. They have barely any money, and the parents have to earn their income by gender-checking a bunch of newly hatched chicks all day. The father decides to fulfill what he thinks is his life’s calling by building a farm with the large plot of land they now own, farming the American way as the head of a Korean household who fell victim to American values. But then things spiral more out of control when the mother-in-law moves in.
For those of you who don’t know, the minari is a seed from Korea, which the grandma wants to plant in the woods by the stream, perhaps as medicine to bring the family together. Within the family, Mountain Dew is humorously called mountain water, like they’re trying to make this cheap affordable junk food sound more wonderful and nutritious than it actually is. It’s the only sign of comic relief they can find in their lives, as the rest of the time, the kids have to throw paper airplanes that say, “don’t fight” at their parents.
Although Minari is not necessarily anything new or innovative or even exactly an instant-classic, since it’s just too quiet and slow for the average viewer to find patience with. It’s really to the exact same extent as these other “arthouse” films out there that are trying to be so slow-paced to stand out from the other fast-paced blockbusters out there. But here’s the problem: no real blockbusters came out this past year! So there’s no longer a need to stand out by being so slow! So the extended amount of time left for them to grow out of their pain may in turn be painful to the viewer.
In addition, the editing isn’t very fluid; it lingers on the slow moments as it should, but doesn’t make easy or smooth transitions into the next scene. I’d also argue that the repetitive musical score is trying too hard to sound contemplative and pretty when it for the most part just gets borderline manipulative. This would have benefited more if there was no music at all. Plus, the framing angles often feel forced, like they’re going low and close up on an actor’s face just to look dynamic. It should have pulled more onto the daughter, who right now is really just shoved aside to make more time for her brother. The sound quality is also inconsistent in the way it records the actors’ voices; you could tell there wasn’t a remarkably high budget for this movie- not that a low budget is ever a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be obvious.
Otherwise, the film works, especially in its treatment of church, which is present in their new home as a way of reaching out to make friends. This catalyst within the plot serves for greater reveal of important character information about each family member, particularly what their role is in either lifting the others up or bringing them down, especially when the men are at one point compared to male chickens.
So you’ll feel joy in the strangest, most ironic sense through the bits of hidden deeper meanings, a lot of which stems off this garden that the father is completely obsessed with building and perfecting. He refers to it as being their own “Garden of Eden,” and in the very area where grandma mentions the minaris, it’s said that there are snakes there. It seems like the eggplants and peppers that dad is growing are the forbidden fruit that he’s tempting his kids, wife, and mother-in-law to partake in, which would in turn burn down their entire households and their future generations. That’s just one example of symbolism in the plot setup, but as you watch this, you should be able to pull out far more meanings than just that.
But here’s the real meat of the film: the surprisingly complex relationship between the grandmother and the son. It starts with her making him drink something straight from Korea to his great disdain, and he spends the rest of the time declaring that she is not a true grandma—he even goes as far as pulling cruel pranks on her. Yet the grandmother never lets go of the love she has for her family. Yuh-jung Youn plays the grandmother, and she just might already be the best overall performance of 2021. She is a woman of few words and limited mobility, but what she does simply cannot be forgotten or ignored.
Yet the son is really the most complex character in the film—his father expects too much out of him, his mother expects too little out of him, but his grandmother expects just the right amount of him, even though she is the one he happens to like the least. Could it be because he knows what’s best for himself but just doesn’t want to face up to what he knows he must do? Is it because he respects his parents too much? Or too little? Would he rather just be his own person like any kid who can’t wait to grow up? There’s all sorts of meanings you could pull out of it, and they all would still be the right answer somehow.
For the common viewer, and for those who act in, write for, and direct movies, Minari is absolutely recommended for viewing, meditation, and application. There’s so much to pull out of this simple setup in a simple part of the country, where every image and every word means something and serves a much greater picture that is designed to speak to all of us.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!