Kim Ki-Duk is one of the most well-known South Korean directors in the world, thanks largely to his willingness to embrace controversy by depicting extremes of human behavior. Some of his past films have drawn attention for being difficult to watch for various reasons (including brutal depictions of violence and uncomfortable sexual themes), earning him a reputation as something of a provocateur. His latest film, Moebius, now seeing a U.S. theatrical run, is unlikely to change that perception of his work. In this film, Kim takes the more unsettling themes of his previous film, 2012’s Pieta, and amplifies them through a similarly claustrophobic approach by examining a family bent on self-destruction. This time, however, there is an intriguing twist in his approach: there is not a single line of spoken dialogue in the entire film.
The following events occur in the first ten minutes of the film: We meet the family. Father, Mother and Son. Father is caught by both Mother and Son in a rendezvous with his Mistress. When he returns home, Mother attempts to castrate him, but Father manages to fend her off. Unsatisified, she instead castrates her Son. Father and Son run to the hospital while Mother drifts into the night. After this shocking opening sequence, the course of the family is set. Son is bullied by his fellow students and becomes obsessed with the Mistress, who likewise seems attracted to him. Father starts researching ways that his Son might have a normal life again, but before long the Son has fallen in with a bad crowd.
Choosing to present this story completely without dialogue makes Moebius feel eerily universal, although it also leads to some (intentional?) uncomfortable humor when Father is using Google to look up things like “orgasm without penis.” The cast must be commended for committing to such difficult material and telling the story completely through actions and expressions. Like Pieta, Moebius has a narrow focus, but here it widens to show how violence against others can ripple out and indirectly touch people who are otherwise unrelated. When the Son is befriended by young thugs, he unwittingly leads them to the Mistress, and from there a bizarre relationship develops. All of this can be traced back to the initial acts of revenge, and the paths are clear.
Despite its occasional moments of black humor, there is no mistaking Moebius for anything like a “good time.” Kim Ki-Duk specializes in films that linger in the mind long after they’re over, leaving the viewer plenty to think about. This would be worth a recommendation alone, but the choice to present the story completely without dialogue makes Moebius feel like something completely unique. It’s exciting that Kim is making films like this nearly 20 years into his career as a director. There’s certainly nothing else out there on the big screen like this right now.
Moebius opens today at Facets Cinematheque in Chicago.