Written and directed by Kim Ki-duk
South Korea, 2013
Who needs words when you can deliver a visceral punch with nothing more than images? In Moebius, South Korean writer-director, Kim Ki-duk, has crafted nothing short of a masterpiece in minimalism. Though challenging and uncompromising, Moebius never sacrifices its humanity in favor of experimental flourishes. Through evocative imagery and savagely dark humor, Kim creates a mesmerizing film about lust, degradation and tranquility. An Oedipal feast that should not be missed.
Moebius dispenses with the formality of proper names. It deals only in archetypes; the father (Cho Jae-hyun), the mother (Lee Eun-woo), the son (Seo Young-ju); discrete units that exist only in relation to one another. And what is the bond that joins them? Is it spiritual or is it flesh? Kim Ki-duk has a delightfully wicked time indulging the flesh while always emphasizing the spiritual toll taken.
The premise is deceptively simple: a father’s lust for another woman (also played by Eun-woo Lee) pushes his desperate wife to unspeakable violence. Perhaps it is not a spoiler to reveal that the unspeakable violence is a half-assed penectomy with a massive knife. To her credit, she tries (and fails) to emasculate her husband first, before defiling her teenage son in a grotesque act of spite. Wracked by torturous guilt, the father resolves to help his embittered son attain some semblance of sexual normalcy. Kim Ki-duk drives home his themes of lust and selfishness by cleverly twisting this fatherly devotion into shocking depravity; as if providing sexual pleasure to his son will somehow justify the pleasure he sought from other women.
To reveal more of the plot would be to deprive you the pleasure of discovering all the wicked twists and turns. Kim’s script doesn’t move forward in the typical 3-act structure; it’s more of a serpentine creature, with one decision leading to another outrageous outcome leading to another decision and so on. The journey is routinely difficult to watch—involving rape, self-mutilation, incest and all manner of sexual deviance—but it’s never less than enthralling. No matter how bizarre or dark the structure gets, it always makes sense within the architect’s twisted logic. What’s more, even without a single word of dialogue (though, there is plenty of screaming and grunting), we never once question where we are in the story. Each character is given a compelling desire. Without words to carry the story, we’re forced to key on each emotive detail; a pained expression or blank stare convey entire worlds of information. Where words might have rendered melodrama, silence imbues each character with sublime psychological pain.
Visually, Kim keeps things as simple as possible. His characters amble into each other’s space like bit players in a dream. Where they come from is immaterial; they are merely characters in their own morality play, venting their impotence on anyone too weak to defend themselves. Silence and violence are the only forms of currency in Moebius, and Kim frames each with the same loving precision. It may be an inexpensive film, but there is absolutely nothing cheap about it.
And always, Kim keeps the emotions of his characters front and center. Mostly tragic and always tormented, you watch helplessly as they spiral toward inevitable doom; hoping against futile hope they will somehow find a way out. Whether Moebius is meant to be funny is a matter of debate. Perhaps, for scenes of such giddy perversity, laughter is our only defense; like a nervous giggle at a horror movie or maniacal screaming on a rollercoaster. You either laugh at a penis rolling down the street or you look away. Which you choose will probably predict your enjoyment of this film.
In the end, what truly distinguishes Moebius as a work of fevered genius is the ruthless examination of the ties that bind us. Kim Ki-duk chooses the most vulgar means to convey this connection—the sharing of a penis. It is lust elevated to a spiritual level, where the only hope of salvation is the impossibility of denying the flesh. Moebius is a singular vision of startling originality.