"Ambiguous and Ambivalent"
What You Need To Know:
The movie is careful not to draw any conclusions. Whether or not this hero worship is frustrating to Koreans is never revealed. It certainly seems to go against the rebellious nature of man, as well as the divine spark of each person who is created in the image of God. Although this is an interesting documentary, it is slow and at times repetitive. Further, its ambivalence and ambiguity require a caution for children, who may not understand the historical and political contexts of the movie.
(H, V) Mild humanist worldview with mention of a sacred mountain in North Korea and recognition of leader worship; no foul language; pantomimed dance routine of soldiers fighting, references to American imperialism, and shots of Korea during the Korean War; no sex, but dancers have a graceful, attractive beauty about them; no nudity; no drinking; no smoking; and, nothing else objectionable.
North Korea is the most closed country on earth. Therefore, it is surprising that a British television company was given permission to go to North Korea to film a documentary movie. The final product, A STATE OF MIND, is reminiscent of Soviet socialist movies that seem to have a covert undertow of witnessing against the totalitarianism. However, these movies were always very subtle, and so is A STATE OF MIND.
Even so, the movie is ambiguous about the nature of Korean culture and the viewer can come up with diametrically opposed opinions. One viewer thought that the young girls in the movie looked happy, and that the excruciating routine was a good way to keep them busy. Another viewer thought that they were oppressed and repressed.
The movie focuses on two friends, Pak Hyon Sun and Kim Song Yun, young girls who practice with hundreds of others for hours every day for the so-called Mass Games. These games occur every year or so to honor the late Kim II Sung, the “Great Leader” who died in 1994, his son Kim Jong II, the current leader, and the glorious Korean Revolution. One girl comes from a working class family where a grandfather operates heavy equipment. The other has a father who is an intellectual and teaches physics. Both girls are very committed to glorifying their leader and to doing their best in the Mass Games.
Much of the movie is a silent movie, with the girls part of large groups of hundreds and even thousands of students who practice intricate gymnastic and dance routines, reminiscent of the opening of the Olympics. Rather than digital billboards, choreographers have coordinated some of these participants so that, holding painted squares in unison, they create incredible detailed pictures, diagrams, words, maps, photographs by the thousands. Each group practices over and over and over again, and a few never make it.
In the process of interviewing the families, the movie reveals glorification of the leader and hate for United States imperialism. Flashbacks show the devastation of Korea during the Korean War, and dialogue discusses the famine that economists attribute to Korean communism, but the Koreans blame on American imperialism. Although communism is by definition materialistic and rejects the spiritual, Kim II Sung has designated one mountain as a sacred mountain, which every Korean has to visit at least once in his lifetime.
As a spoiler, the only indication that something is deeply wrong with the totalitarian system is when the girls finally get to perform for the leader, and he doesn’t even show up. His military goons look bored as they watch their dedicated subjects.
The movie is careful not to draw any conclusions. That was probably the only way that it could get made and brought out of the country. Each person in the games is supposed to lose themselves in the mass of humanity. Individualism is supposed to be removed. However, the leader is idolized, and everyone must celebrate his birthday, his idiosyncrasies, and his desires. He seems to be the one individual in the country. Whether or not this hero worship is frustrating to most Koreans is never revealed. It certainly seems to go against the rebellious nature of man, as well as the divine spark of each person who is created in the image of God.
Although this is a very interesting documentary, it is slow and at some times repetitive. Further, its ambivalence and ambiguity require a caution for children, who may not understand the historical and political contexts of the movie.