Kim Ki-duk, Republic of Korea
With only the visceral sounds of painful grunts and pleasurable sighs instead of spoken dialogue, Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius still manages to go out with a bang rather than a whisper. The focus of the film is on one extremely broken family: a man (Cho Jae-hyun) who has been callously cheating on his wife without caring that she knows what is happening, a woman (Lee Eun-woo) who is disturbed from ill treatment and jealousy, and finally the teenage son (Seo Young-ju) who is the victim of his parents’ abusive relationship towards one another. When the woman tries to castrate her husband and fails, she then proceeds to castrate her son and eat his penis before disappearing into the night. The story primarily follows the father and son trying to cope with their guilt and humiliation caused by this life changing event.
Moebius is a hugely powerful and disturbing movie that pushes several boundaries when it comes to the depiction of sexual arousal, masochism and masculinity. Due to his castration, the son faces extreme humiliation from his peers which results in violent outbursts. To the men around him, he is a laughing stock and his feelings of inadequacy eventually lead him to taking part in a gang rape of his father’s former mistress. The father, tortured from the guilt of knowing that he essentially caused his son’s suffering, spends the majority of the film desperately trying to find a way for his son to achieve sexual pleasure again. He researches penis transplants to no avail and eventually discovers that, through extreme pain, it is possible to reach an orgasm. This particular part of the film is perhaps the most visually disturbing, with father and son using a rock to rub a wound into their feet as a way to achieve an orgasm. However, there are several other scenes of similarly disturbing quality, but it was in particular the self-mutilation scenes which caused several members of the audience to get up and leave the theater.
The lack of spoken dialogue in Moebius fits beautifully. The focus of the film is on the most base aspects of humanity: the penis, arousal and sexual satisfaction. By removing the spoken word, the viewer is left with only grunts and screams which effectively demonstrate the primal drive of the film and its characters. This creative choice really allows for pure acting on the part of the four main characters. Particularly impressive is Seo Young-ju as the son, whose role ranges from meek to extremely violent to horribly shameful, but all of the actors definitely make quite an impact.
It is difficult to recommend Moebius due to its extremely graphic subject matter, but it is certainly an interesting artistic work on many levels. It feels almost like a modern-day Greek tragedy (with clear references to the story of Oedipus Rex), but it is also something very interesting in its own right. It pushes boundaries that need to be pushed, the definitions of sex and need and family all warped together to create a truly interesting piece of cinematic art. While it may not have a true lasting impact past its initial shock factor, it is still a fascinating look at the boundaries of good taste in 2013. (Rose Finlay)