August 15, 2015

Marathon: Track and Feel Good

I don't know much about autism. and after watching Marathon, like one of those disease-of-the-week movies I used to watch as a kid, I can safely say, I still don't. Chung Yoon-chul's well-intentioned drama — based on a real story, of course — has fashioned its central character (played with unquestionable commitment by Cho Seung-woo) as if he were the offspring of a nerdy 6-year-old and a rundown computer. The portrait feels overly simplistic: He acts petulant, he spits out random data, he craves structure, he pretty much only thinks of himself, he follows commands -- like when he run 100 laps until he collapses, without thinking, or when he learns to keep his farts outside the apartment. But it all feels more like a performance than a condition. That's frankly not enough.

If you're anything like me, you'll never buy into the struggle of the self-sacrificing mother (Kim Mi-suk) who teaches him to count change, to keep a colorful diary, to repeat catchphrases. You'll never believe the conversion of his coach (Lee Gi-yeong) who goes from resentful has-been runner to championing drinking buddy either. But you still get that the mom's got a rough life and that the coach would be happier if he just connected with someone. Yes, the movie glosses over why the father (Ahn Nae-sang) moved out and how the younger brother (Baek Seong-hyeon) could benefit from a little more parental love. But we actually don't need those details. This is by-the-book storytelling. We can fill in those particulars easily ourselves.

And so while you might argue that Marathon is skimping on certain clinical details, it's also not burdening us with subplots we already understand the complexities of. It also doesn't throw in an unnecessary romance, or an unreasonable gold medal or a devastating sucker punch. Marathon is ultimately a feel-good movie. When the central character finally learns how to smile, we smile along with him. Yes, his smile is forced. Well, so is ours. But "fake it until you make it" is an approach than can get you through many a tough day.

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