End of Animal
South Korean cinema has become known for its ‘balls to the wall’ approach to action – to adopt some lowly, local parlance – and through this it has garnered a inproportionately sized chunk of the worlds audience. Experienced film viewers, it seems, have grown over accustomed to the tropes of the medium and thus need something a little stronger to shock them, and extreme is exactly what the picture from this place provide. End of Animal though is not a film for these people, its balls are entirely untoward and yet it is still extreme in its own way; instead I would say that it is a ‘brains to the wall’ film, to coin a phrase.
While the difference may seem to most of you a simple matter of semantics, but I beg to differ. This film is very much as twisted and visionary as one would expect from those down-under filmmakers; but this sense of polarity does not stem from its action, gore, immoralities or genre but rather from its central metaphor. Animal is a cerebral film, but not in a quiet nor a subtle way; if watching Ozu is like sipping green tea than this film is like having it splashed in your face and the cup smashed against your now tender head as you recover.
The film starts quite strangely with a woman being driven in a cab through the Korean countryside when the driver stops to pick up a stranger for the second fare. The man is instantly ominous and eventually we realize, omniscient too. Tension builds as the trio continue to travel, bickering and toying with one another and then the world ends, roll the opening credits. From here we follow the woman as she wanders what is now a wasteland of a world, meeting new people and quickly wishing that she hadn’t. It’s all very existential. Throughout the film she has a simple goal, to reach the nearby rest area, and this is a goal shared by those other survivors that she meets on the road; so they try to travel together and this is where the real conflict starts to arise.
It is made quite clear early on that the man in the cab is God, or at least a Gabriel-esque mouthpiece for the man, and that the setting of the story is to be seen as a purely purgatorial place, the only escape from which is the heavenly nirvana of this rest area. If only we would listen to him, the film seems to say, is only we would stick to the road that he has set before us than life would be so much simpler; instead though we are tempted and so easily too, we are weak, and so we travel together, we let others rule us and thus the task becomes something closer to a Kafka-esque nightmare.
Don’t worry though End of Animal is not some Left Behind-esque christian propaganda picture. No, the church would scoff at any such attachment. It is instead a simple indictment of humanity as told through our reliance on religion, one that almost seems as if it is willing along the end of the world. The characters that we meet are all riddled with vice and cowardice – I guess all the remotely good died instantly – and this is hammered home through their increasingly brutal treatment of the films protagonist.
In this was the film is something of a study in selfishness and this theme is best illustrated through the films intelligent use of stuff. When people die all they leave behind is their stuff – I guess you really can’t take it with you – and this technique is utilized visually to chilly almost Tarkovskyan effect. Then there are the living, who simply take things from us and this is executed to almost Chaplain-esque effect so sparse is the subtlety. See, our girl See-yon can never say no and so people oft walk all over her. Her quest throughout the film is to find the strength to stand up to the other survivors and listen to her own instincts first and foremost; although strangely enough this doesn’t also apply to the god figure, his voice is the one that we should supposedly abide even when it is the most impossible to identify.
So based on my summary it seems like there is a lot going on in this film, but I can assure you that this is all occurring under the surface. It may seem like I have told you a lot of what happens in the picture but I actually havn’t touched on any details of the plot or encounters from outside the first fifteen minutes. Though there are a few good moments to be found in some of these sections they are few and far between with the majority of time taken up by shots of emptiness or the slow-waddle of a pregnant woman.
Overall I would say that End of Animal works wonderfully on this metaphorical level but mostly fails as a film; If you find de-construction entertaining than it may give you a rush akin to a revenge thriller, but if not you will basically be bored by having your brain smashed against this particular, bland wall.