October 12, 2017

A Forest Is Swaying: Enough About Me, Me, Me

The abject selflessness is so pronounced in director Jang Yong-bok's stoic North Korean drama A Forest Is Swaying that you can almost hear the cries of disapproval from the grave of Ayn Rand. Never has a character stood so adamantly in repudiation of Rand's "me first" ideology. Who is he? Oh, he's asimple fellow really... a military veteran who's come home from the wars with news of a fellow soldier's death. Then, when he realizes that said infantryman — the uncomplaining regiment cook in fact — has left behind an orphaned daughter, he decides to pretend that he's her long-gone dad and plant the late comrade's pocketful of pine seeds on the latter's hometown mountainside which has been thoroughly destroyed by Yankee bombers. Who needs a life of one's own when you've got someone else's to live?

Frustratingly, the seedlings don't initially take. According to a botanical expert sent by the state (who is also longing to be his bride), the soil's just no damned good. Poplar would do better here, she insists. But he won't have it. He won't be stopped. He nurses the pine seeds, slaves away in sun and snow, barely survives a mudslide, then once recovered refuses to stop even when he needs a cane to continue... and eventually, the miracle happens. In the time it takes to make two babies and see one grow to adulthood, he's now living in woodsy paradise with plenty of deer and strawberries for the people. Now old and as stubborn as ever, he doesn't bask in the praise of the Great Leader — although he sheds a few humble, beatified tears. Instead, he heads on over to another barren mountain determined to make it fruitful for future generations. He's received all the credit he'll ever need. Even the book documenting his amazing success story bears the name of another author. Which is just as he wanted it. I imagine his gravestone will say something like "Get back to work. Nothing happening here."

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