May 28, 2013

Pieta: An Avenging Mother Goes to Extremes

Most people I know have strained relationships with their mothers. But nothing compares to the parent-child dynamic in Kim Ki-duk's masochistic drama Pieta. In short, you might wish your mother guilt-tripped less and complimented more but whatever your issues may be, they're likely to dwarf when set aside those of loan shark Gang-do (Lee Joeng-jin) and the martyr-like woman (Jo Min-soo) who shows up on his doorstep, in search of forgiveness for abandoning him as a child many years ago. It's hardly love at first sight. Rather than hug his long-lost mom, he slams the door on her hand, slaps her face, even rapes her before he finally decides that maybe she really is the one. This total acceptance causes him to re-evaluate his way of living -- crippling indebted machinists so he can collect money from their insurance policies isn't the kind of work that would make a mother proud. Suddenly, he's got someone to live up to, this tireless, self-sacrificing woman who cooks him eel and knits him a sweater.

Personally, I've always thought that unconditional love was a bit of a false ideal. That's the type of affection we get from dogs. Do we really not want a person to judge us when we're doing the wrong thing or accept us no matter how far we transgress? Isn't there something to be said for conditional love, the idea that certain boundaries need to be maintained? Duk certainly thinks to seem so for when you see just how far this mom is willing to go to avenge her son, you realize that that kind of absolutism lacks compassion, surely an integral part of love. Forgiveness seems so much more powerful than a blind commitment; empathy feels more noble than devotion. Don't believe me? Check out Pieta. By the end, you'll see that an extreme version of a mother's undying love is just as twisted as the problematic relationship you're having with your own mother. In fact, consider yourself lucky!

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