Nobody said it would be easy. Changing city, putting down roots somewhere new – Arkansas, the 80’s, in a house that isn’t really a house, facing opposition from your family and far from a hospital, not the best situation when your son has a heart condition. But, you had to give it a try. You already knew the alternative all too well: sexing chickens day-in-day-out, with no chance of bettering yourself, much less becoming your own boss. Is that the future you want for yourself? …’til the end of time? This is the question the star of ‘Minari’ asks himself, played by actor Steven Yeun. And his reply: a resounding ‘No’. A change of life is needed. Take your wife and kids and head off to live in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by vegetation and with a dream in your soul, to build a vegetable garden. A garden big enough to produce on a grand scale and capable of generating sufficient income to earn a living. It does credit to the age-old adage: you reap what you sow.
How often have we asked ourselves the same question throughout or lives? I don’t like living here, I don’t like my job, I’d prefer to be doing something different, my real dream would be to… It’s pretty easy to identify with our main character in the movie, nominated for six Oscars including best picture, best director, and best actor. Who among us hasn’t asked ourselves, on more than one occasion, is this really the life I wanted? The difference here being that out star slams his fist on the table, while the vast majority tend to hang our heads and toe the established line. Fear, inertia, conformism. There are a million and one excuses. Following the American dream is within the reach of anyone yearning to take the road less travelled, but so few dare to leave the beaten path.
‘Minari’, directed by Lee Isaac Chung, is one long obstacle course. A personal challenge. It’s about stumbling and then picking yourself up after the fall, challenging your own family and weighing up the results and the reality in the balance, and deciding, how far will you go and what are you willing to lose to get there. Follow my dreams, or stand by my family? The film, like life itself, is a series of cumulative decision-making moments. It’s also about working as a team, cooperating, allowing others to help, listening, etc. Humans are social beings. We aren’t born to live in isolation, but instead to learn from others, help each other out, struggle and grow richer together. ‘Minari’ is all this. As well as an ode to what having a family means. To the difficulties parents and children go through when the fertilizer really hits the fan. And to shared happiness when things work out.
Even if it has its fair share of drama, the producers’ intentions are to have us smiling. And they do this with the figure of the grandmother, who joins the clan directly from South Korea to assist them in their new adventure. She is the very symbol of freedom, of going with the flow. She isn’t, as the youngest member of the family states, “a normal grandma”. She doesn’t bake cookies, she swears like a sailor when playing cards, watches wrestling on TV and couldn’t care less about religion. One of the highlights is the beautifully touching conversation between her and the young boy, who’s suffering from a heart murmur, where she tells him she doesn’t understand why he has to pray every night to get into heaven; and who the hell put that idea into his head. It’s the film critique of faith, and a total contrast to the hired hand who helps the father in the garden, and who we witness lumbering a cross along the road in the midday sun in devotion to Jesus.
Although ‘Minari’ is a well-narrated tale, about a family we both empathize with and hope it all works out for them, the sextuplets of Oscar nominations are perhaps, in the humble opinion of this author, a tad overindulgent. Knowing that comparisons are odious, it’s hardly surprising that south Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Parasites‘, is dragged up ad nauseum. Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture – the first foreign language production to ever win the award, ending the evening with four statuettes – and it boasts a series of ingredients that are far more novel: surprise factor, mix of genres, crushing social criticism… However, we’ve seen the whole ‘in pursuit of the American dream thang’ many times before. And although, on this occasion, we get to view things from the perspective of a Korean family, the broth comes out somewhat lacking in certain ingredients. ‘Minari’ encourages audiences to fight for their dreams, to slam one door shut and change direction, but it fails, quite seriously, in delivering the impact of that fantastic Kim family, who left us all so gobsmacked in ‘Parasites‘.