Award nominees and winners are generally a no go in this household, but I really like Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) so I watched it anyway. His English holds no hint of a Korean accent, so it’s always a bit jarring to hear him speaking so fluently. He has picked some really good movies to be in since those days, including this one that’s like a high school English lesson. Metaphors, foreshadowing, and dichotomies, it’s got a whole term paper.
The first scene starts with a basic piano score that would sound more at home in a very small country church. Is it supposed to be folksy? Nostalgically churchy? It never gets impressive, but at least it’s not annoying. In the early 1980s Mrs. Yi is NOT happy with their “new” trailer home. She’s a city girl who has just been moved from California to podunk Arkansas by her husband, and after having to crawl in, catch roof leaks and not have any neighbors, she exclaims, “It just gets worse and worse!” And it does.
There are two children, an older girl and a small boy. Throughout the whole film the girl is a side note amidst the drama. They barely even talk to her, but five times in the first ten minutes they tell the boy, “David don’t run!” We then find out that he’s got a heart condition and is supposed to take it easy. The mom is overwhelmed, between looking at chicken butts all day then cooking at night and taking care of the kids, and being pissed off that her husband moved her out to the sticks so he can be a farmer. So they bring her mom over from Korea to help and between cultural wrenches and the boy intensely disliking his foul mouthed and scheming grandma, things get worse and worse. The film is about the relationships between the grandma and the boy, and to a lesser extent the husband and wife, and the family and their new neighbors. The girl gets one good line, muttered as she walks away but remains tangential to the plot.
Soon after they move in they’re driving home when the father peers through the windshield and remarks, “That’s funny, the sky is green.” It’s a great metaphor for the family not understanding what they’ve gotten into, because a green sky in the Midwest means there’s a twister coming. They don’t know that, and they don’t truly understand what a huge bite they’ve taken, moving to a place they don’t understand.
There’s a lot of foreshadowing of really bad things about to happen. They’re walking in the woods with grandma, who disregards warnings about snakes. The boy saying he’d live here “till the day I die” and we know he has a condition that can drop him in a second. Having the boy stay with a redneck family for the night is by turns comedic, heartwarming, and nail biting. I won’t say if any or all of these doomsday foreshadowing come true, but the end result is to keep you restless in your seat, wondering if and when the hammer will drop.
The story carries an interesting dichotomy on how religion can be both frightening and a saving grace. The family finds friends in their new church and also an insanely religious helper. The movie is a somewhat autobiographical account of the director’s own family, but I don’t know how he feels about religion after watching the film, because he doesn’t seem to come down on either the frightening or saving side.
Minari is a quiet exploration of deep family dramas, extreme readjustments in pursuit of fulfilling a dream, and a fascinating tale of a time and place that seemed fraught at the time but now feels very quaint. It’s good. Check it out.