When I first watched Minari, what compelled me to write about it was the relevance of this film in these testing times. The simple but well-crafted story narrated in 145 odd minutes restores the desire of continuing a journey of hope against hope, the hope of a better tomorrow. From Alan’s innocence, Han’s patience, Steven’s portrayal of an immigrant with a dream to Youn’s funny banter, the film was inspiring and sets an example of the times we live in.
The story of Minari begins with a four member Korean family (Jacob, Monica, David and Anne) moving to Arkansas from California, with the father having a dream of selling Korean vegetables to the Dallas markets to fulfil the American Dream. I found out recently that the actor Steven Yeun who plays the role of Jacob in real life is also originally from Korea and is a popular American actor. This might be the probable reason behind the convincing portrayal of the character in the film.
A few scenes into the movie, comes a disastrous storm. The storm could be signifying two very crucial elements – during the storm the husband and the wife have a heated fight with one another where Monica loses her patience and reveals her frustration with regards to shifting to the small house. In the later half of the story, Monica actually decides to leave her husband, maybe the storm was a metaphor used to address the turbulence that the couple might face later. The second element – the storm also signified that life ahead would not be easy for the family, there will be constant upheavals whether it’s achieving the dream or whether giving himself and his family a life of contentment which is evident throughout the film.
The husband and wife starts working in a nearby hatchery where they raise chicken. Jacob is unable to enjoy what he does, he keeps thinking about how to build his own farm. The wife struggles as she is worried about their son, who has a block in his heart. Soonja (who plays Monica’s mother) comes to town to take care of the children. Her conversations with David highlights the heavy influence of American culture on David who probably will also have the same aspiration as his father’s when he grows up. David enjoys drinking Mountain Dew almost everyday after every meal, criticises his grandmother who supposedly does not fit into being a good grandmother because she does not make cookies and cannot speak in English. On the contrary, David speaks English with poise and elan. He seems to be more acquainted with American culture.
David’s character is funny, bold and vocal whereas his elder sister Anne played by Noel hardly gets a chance to emote. The character could have been beautiful but somehow the director failed to capture her emotions and experiences. The character has no importance to say the least. Her longings, her wants do not find a place in the movie. Despite the two other strong female characters in the film, the character of Anne does not flourish anywhere. She too must have been anxious, must have felt lost when the family uprooted themselves from California. Her bond with her grandmother or even with her parents or her sibling never really gets any significance. Her uneasiness, comfort and discomfort is almost invisibilised. Did the film subtly try to capture patriarchy and power of patriarchs in Korean households or was it mere carelessness of direction?
However, the other female characters in the movie are extremely powerful in their own ways, and display an array of layers to their characters. Soonja is comfortable in speaking in Korean and watches Korean shows everyday, criticises her daughter’s belief in the church and also enjoys Korean food that she brought with herself. On the other hand, Monica is trying to channel her hope through her belief in the Church which is also a way of getting accustomed to American culture. She almost forces her children to visit the church every Sunday regardless of David’s interests.
Moving ahead with the story, Jacob repeatedly fails in his endeavours of building up a successful farm. However, at one point of time, with the help of a local farmer, he was able to grow the vegetables and it seemed like his hard work and resilience had paid off. His dream was finally being fulfilled. But as fate has it, the water pump started to dry up and the soil was not getting enough water, as a result of which the vegetables started to rot. At the very last minute, the vendor in Dallas also cancelled the order. It looked like another storm was just at the brink of taking over their lives. Jacob’s character grew more and more individualistic as the story progressed. The more he failed, the more he was getting caught in the web of his own ambitions. From cautiously not parking the car under the sun to showing up late for his son’s checkup, all Jacob cared for was his basket of vegetables. He was so driven by his individualistic capitalist wants, he hardly cared about his family.
However, good news for the Yi family finally arrived as the doctor said that young David’s heart condition was improving. One of the local vendors also appeared impressed and was ready to place orders for vegetables with them. Just as you start to feel like the happy ending is within reach, things go haywire. With Monica deciding to leave Jacob due to his lack of interest in family life and the barn catching fire, things looked bleak again.
The story does not end here though – what comes next seems to have the most impact on the audience. Like the old saying there is always day after night- the whole family comes together and decides to build the farm projecting the hope that everybody needs. Amidst the chaos, Minari, the plant that was sown by Soonja and David during their strolls in the evening, seemed to have survived and looked resplendent. Minari was the ray of hope for the family. One door closed for the family, only for another one to open.
Taking from the movie, the characters and the incidents play an important role in our hearts as it inspires to dream and hope. Despite the failures and losing almost everything, the family came together as a unit and decided to start afresh. Regardless of the fear of failing again, this time the family decided to fight it together by doubling the strength. This movie did not have a happy ending in the quintessential way but an ending with a lingering hope that happiness is on its way. Isn’t this the only thing we require during the pandemic too? Despite the phases of the virus’s attack, humanity will survive if they come together as one unit, we just need to find our Minari which will help us fight.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.