After confronting her cheating husband about his current affair, a woman takes out her anger on their teenage son. And she does so in one of the most horrifying ways possible: by carving off the boy’s penis. What follows is a bizarre, dialog-free tale of three people struggling to live with the aftermath…in Moebius.
Moebius, from writer-director Kim Ki-duk, is a surreal experience to watch unfold. Not only does it take a while to realize that the movie is dialog-free, but the performances from its three leads is a mixed bag of serious, spot-on moments of acting and scene-chewing madness. More so, there’s an incredibly bizarre plot-thread regarding alternative forms of sexual stimulation that builds over the course of the movie–played entirely straight for much of the time only to get blatantly silly by the end.
Now it would be unfair to call Moebius tone-deaf, seeing as how the movie’s serious moments bleed almost seamlessly into the more comedic. But it would be appropriate to find fault in a movie that deals with serious issues such as various forms of violence and sexual assault while also consistently framing such things in a less-than serious manner. Comedy can be a great tool to help offset a movie’s heavier themes and moments. It can buy a movie some time while the audience is still reeling from, say, the unceremonious way a mother viciously assaults her own son, bringing the audience back down to a less-intense emotional state before hitting them again with yet another shocking act of violence. But issues arise when the comedy instead nullifies the impact of what should be hard-hitting moments.
For example: the story presented in Moebius primarily focuses on this nameless family’s nameless son–played here by Seo Yeong-ju–as he continuously struggles and fails to live a normal life following the attack by his mother. But while we do get a few brief glimpses at the shame and sorrow Yeong-ju’s nameless character is plagued by, it barely touches upon the sort of raging storm of emotion one might expect to be consuming this mutilated young man. This results in a personal struggle that often feels shallow as the movie quickly moves from one scene to the next. Or worse, from one gag to the next.
IT’s IN THE “HOW”
In fact, the movie frequently struggles and fails to determine what it wants to be at any given moment: a serious story of violence, sex, and violent sex, or something sillier and more light-hearted.
On the one hand, the movie presents a sincere story of victims of violent sexual assault learning to adapt and cope after the fact. How they can overcome fear–how they can overcome the physical and mental scars–so as to find some semblance of joy and love.
But on the other hand, Moebius also makes light of the extreme lengths its damaged characters will go to have and enjoy sex.
It’s one thing to showcase these characters as the troubled individuals that they are, to explore their severely altered sexual lives in the aftermath of such serious trauma. But it’s a whole other thing to present such things in such a strange, comical light. There’s nothing inherently funny about genital mutilation, rape, or even the unexpected or undesired fetishes that may possibly arise from such experiences. There’s certainly a story to be mined there. There are certainly some humorous moments to be derived from characters acknowledging and coming to terms with how absurd and deranged their world has now become. There’s a way to use humor to lighten the mood a bit, or for characters to cope.
Unfortunately, Moebius‘ attempts at humor–whether by design or by accident–strips the movie of any emotional impact or depth. It negates the plights of its characters, reducing them to quirky character traits. It limits otherwise compelling, complex relationships to strange, shallow interactions.
It”s hard to determine what sort of audience may find Moebius a movie worth their time and attention. It’s material is far too serious to appeal to those looking for something comedic. And it presents such material far too often in a comedic light for it to be taken serious by those looking for an engaging drama.
That said, the movie is certainly unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, or since. And I’m sure that sentiment will hold true for anyone daring enough to give it a shot. So, even if only to those with a taste for the bizarre–even if only as an experience unto itself–I suggest you CHILL with Moebius.