Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Film Review: End of Animal or The Apocalypse Comes to the Korean Countryside

Director and Writer: Sung-hee Jo   



There are so many American evangelical Christian movies out nowadays. Movies such as War Room, for instance. On the whole, these films are generally only received well by Christians...primarily because American evangelical Christian filmmaking is so bad. Notice, I keep saying "American evangelical Christian." And the reason I am so specific is because non-American evangelical films are generally rather good. And American Christian non-evangelical films are also generally good. (See "The Mission," for example.) There have, of course, been a few good evangelical Christian movies. The Apostle, for instance. But in all honesty, evangelical Christian movies made by Americans are usually pretty bad.

One of the reasons why Evangelical America Christian movies are so terrible is that they are so finely-woven together with American culture, American filmmaking, and American Church tradition. American culture has certain racial and social ideas that have seeped into American Christianity. American filmmaking aims for blockbusters; thus American Christian movies tend to be large-scale affairs rather than indies. And American Church tradition is illustrative, preachy, expository, combative, and informed by such siege mentality that it often feels the movie is all too aware of possible enemies/unsaved folks/detractors in the audience. Because of this debate mentality, many Christian movies are not about characters but they often seem to be about polemics and doctrinal points.

Given all that, it's always refreshing to see Christian films that are simple stories. It's refreshing when the films are plain old stories but it's downright exhilarating when a Christian filmmaker tackles Christian a perfectly cinematic way. 

End of Animal, which is streaming online in various places, is an apocalyptic film that is a far cry from the likes of would-be blockbuster Left Behind. The story begins with a cab ride. Our heroine, Soo Young, is heavily pregnant and is pretty much due any minute. Because of this, she is driving to her mother's house where her mother will take care of her before, during, and after the birth. The cabbie is a friendly older guy. But a stranger soon joins the group in the cab. He's wearing a hood, and a baseball cap and he knows way too much about the lives of the two people he's traveling with. He also knows the world will be ending soon. Is he an angel? God? Or "an angel of the Lord" (an angel who pretty much is so full of God that the angel is almost a walking manifestation of God.)?

Well, the angel starts telling them all will go black within a few seconds and gives them some advice. Even after the blackout occurs, electricity stops, and good folks disappear off the face of the earth, he keeps giving advice to our heroine. Via a walkie-talkie or by other means (dreams, notes, words spoken off the cuff by casual strangers, etc.)  Note, I said "advice." Because one cannot really call the words "commands." This being is protective, testy when not listened to, omniscient, but by no means a "bully."

This is one of the first areas where this movie differs from American movies. In an American Christian movie, we would have been given a long dissertation on who this being is and why He is being this way, complete with chapter and verse. There is no such exposition in this movie. Korean filmmakers are notorious at trusting their audiences. American filmmakers are equally notorious for introducing characters, showing their character traits, and generally not trusting their audiences to figure stuff out.

I said earlier that this being is testy. And really, after watching Soo-Young repeatedly follow her own logic, disobey intuition, disobey clear commands, and get into deeper and deeper more harrowing circumstances, the viewer understands why this unknown protector of hers gets annoyed. Like Israel of old, and like Christendom now, Soo-Young is willful, stiff-necked, and self-trusting to an inordinate way too logical degree. Like the poor man beaten on the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, she has traveled a road and has been beaten. But unlike the beaten man, she continually refuses the help provided by the Good Samaritan.

We the viewers consider her a "good" character because she is clearly a decent person. But she is not an obedient character. We consider her a character whom another character loves and wants to save. But at the end, one wonders if this woman is beyond salvation. And with the film's devastating last lines of dialog, one understands the exasperation of God.

There is one character who is reminiscient of the malefactor on the cross and it's a bit jarring to see his redemption. But, if one is a viewer of Korean dramas and movies, one has come to understand the almost-ubiquitous redemption arc.

The other thematic layer is social and historical. Our heroine has suffered in much the same way that modern Korea (or even modern African-American) culture has. Does she come out of her suffering with any sense of gratitude? No, she repairs her woundedness with the desire for stuff.

If this movie had been made in the USA, the bad guy would have been killed and our heroine would have seen the light.

This movie is not to everyone's taste. If you aren't a religious person, avoid it. But if you like scifi apocalyptical films, films about the spiritual nature of human beings, and Christian films that are a notch above the rest, this film is Highly Recommended.
Post a Comment

Blog Archive