In my twenty four years of being alive on this earth, I have found that life has an unruly way of building you up, tearing you down, and building you back up again. It’s a beautiful tragedy that sometimes feels neverending. It is like your car breaking down on the way home from finding out you got a promotion at work. It is unpredictable in its cataclysmic swings but in that, we learn who we are and what we are capable of. Minari captures this in a way that is rarely seen in modern day American cinema.
Slice of Life
Minari is the perfect slice of life. This poetic film tells the story of a Korean family that settles down in rural Arkansas. Coming from California marks a stark change in scenery and in the way of life. But it is what must be done.
The patriarch of the family, Jacob (Steven Yeun), has a dream. He wants to own land and become a farmer. The way he sees it, there is not a lot of opportunity for people like his family to get the food of their homeland. Jacob wants to focus on growing Korean vegetables for his family and his underserved community.
In realizing his dream, Jacob forces the whole family to move and to adjust to a new living situation, much to the chagrin of his wife, Monica, and kids, Anne and David.
The Eyes of a Child
Much of the story is seen through the eyes of David (Alan Kim). David is a precocious young boy and the most lovable film character in recent memory. While his parents fight, David is in the other room listening. While his father feels stress over things not going as he anticipated, David is there, bearing the weight of that stress in a way that a young child should never have to.
His observations are our portal into the world of this family. We are constantly reminded of his young, innocent presence. We see on his face the way that he is taking in what he is seeing and is trying to make sense of it, much in the same way that we are.
A Grandmother’s Love
David’s world is flipped upside down when his grandmother, Soonja, comes to stay with the family. He has never met her before this encounter. His reaction is not what one might expect. He is scared of her. Almost as if her presence is the breaking point, as he keeps having to get used to new situations.
In order to cope with this, David begins tormenting her, claiming she “isn’t a real grandma” because she swears and doesn’t bake. As the film goes, the relationship the two share evolves and becomes increasingly sweet, as they both begin to let their guard down.
Yuh-jung Youn gives one of the best performances of the year as Soonja. Soonja is so loving and forgiving and accepting of the person that her grandson turns out to be. It’s a quiet, delicate performance and surely will be nominated for some awards, if there is any justice at all.
The American Dream
Minari is a quiet representation of the American dream and what it all means. Showing this through a Korean family, we get a better understanding of what it really stands for.
We feel the frustration that Jacob feels, as he realizes that this “American dream” that he has been fed all his life is a lie. We feel the crushing anguish of his family, as things never seem to go their way. And we feel the comfort that they feel, as they pick up the pieces and begin to move forward. We know they will be alright.
Steven Yeun and the rest of the ensemble are so entirely believable as a family that, if nothing else, has each other. The Rolling Stones perfectly summed up the beautiful tragedy of Minari and the American Dream; You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.
Minari: It’s as American as apple pie.
Check out more of our Movie Reviews!