Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lee Chang-dong finds an Oasis

In a touching portrayal of true love, social repression, and the unspoken yearnings which are expressions of our human nature, Oasis is a film which intends to highlight the inner plight of those amongst us who so often remain silent, misunderstood, and unseen.

The protagonist Jong-Du (Kyung-gu Sol) is a recently released prisoner on the road to reinstating himself into society. We quickly learn however, how difficult it is for Jong-Du to be accepted by a world that only wishes to see him as having fallen; rejecting whatever good may exist in his heart. Jong-Du however is admirable for his dedication to remaining true to himself despite his simplistic nature, or his inability to grasp the difference between right and wrong.

We are soon introduced to the one who, despite suffering terribly from cerebral palsy, is able to accept Jong-Du as her own, as he does for her. Here we witness the incredible and unspoken suffering of those who are voiceless and devoid of freedom and love, in a way that the inability of Gong-Ju (Moon So-ri) to walk can only begin to portray. How, or why, is it that something so pure and powerful as love is granted only to a select few? Why must the oasis for some, be unreachable, shrouded in shadow?

While Jong-Du is no stranger to prison, Gong-Ju is no stranger to the bars of her own body and mind which keep her incarcerated. But in one another, they each find the redemption and acceptance that the other needs as the fuel for life. The prison walls no longer matter; the oasis is no longer so distant.

Gong-Ju must crawl, from floor to bed, bed to kitchen. She relies upon her neighbour for provision of food and general checkups in exchange for payment. While Gong-Ju’s brother is able to provide for her fundamental daily provisions, nobody in capable of giving her a life. Life for Gong-Ju exists in dreams, imaginations and in yearnings. Despite her condition, the audience must shamefully admit that she is just another woman inside. The direction (by Lee Chang-dong) of the movie portrays this wonderfully with Gong-Ju’s intermittent escapades into romantic normality.

We find that, while Gong-Ju’s physical appearance is something of a detraction for the common people or even Jong-Du’s family, Jong-Du embraces her warmly. In a scene where Gong-Ju is forced to witness a lewd and unapologetic sex-act, the viewer is made to understand that the love the two share, at its core, is more everlasting than the lack of emotion and contemporary displays of false love that common people can mostly experience. Who then in society should be the judge of these two individuals if society itself is impure, immature, and unclean?

In addition to the themes of love, Oasis does not shy away from exposing how the established framework of society, its rules, policies and expectations, causes segregation amongst men. How little attention do we pay to those for whom redemption and solace can only lie in an empty prayer or expression of guilt? We can admire Jong-Du, for whom redemption means no desire for self-defence, no denial of his wrongs. Redemption for Jong-Du means dedicating himself to helping another who is unable to help herself, perhaps from even purer motives than a first glance may convey. It is his actions, in practice, that makes Jong-Du worthy of humanity, whereas the religion of society openly condemns him. And in contradiction, it is the same society that forces his mindset to degrade, causing him to revert back to the convict that society wishes to see him as.

Oasis teaches us that while society may lay claim to one’s redemption or status in the world, our soul’s pure intent of purpose; its visceral and genuine nature defining our humanity can never be raped, or incarcerated. Oasis can claim to highlight the purity in love, temporary or permanent, the reasons why we laugh with our mothers, embrace a stranger, or to fall asleep with another in ones thoughts. It challenges those self-serving, established modes of thought, the religious ideals, family expectations and lack of spirit within individuals, and asks that we remember what we are capable of. Oasis is simply a beautiful movie about two beautiful human beings, and deserves to be seen for both its story, and its message.

By Gaurav Bhalla

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