February 16, 2015

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring

Ki-Duk Kim, 2004
Situated in a remote valley in the middle of dense forest, an old monk raises a young boy on his floating monastery.

Ki-Duk Kim's Spring is kind of a difficult film to write about. Various people will likely interpret it in different ways. It relies on more visual cues to tell the story rather than a lot of dialogue. But in its most simple description, it's a story about a boy growing up in a secluded Buddhist monastery with his master who took him in as an infant. Or you could make the argument that the film is really about the monk. Isolated from society, he tries to insulate his kin from the outside forces that are destined to corrupt him. He warns that lust leads to the intent to murder others. Seems a bit extreme, but we soon learn that although his methods of instruction may be unconventional, he is much wiser than he lets on. There are many different sects in the Buddhist religion. Like the Trappist monks in the Roman Catholic church who do not speak, there are Buddhist monasteries where the monks and students take vows of silence and spend their days meditating or praying. That is basically the daily routine for the master and the boy, who spend most of the day in the vicinity of the floating monastery. They either pray, meditate, or collect resources in the surrounding forest. The outside world plays a very small role in the film, serving as sort of an exterior realm. People leave that exterior realm and enter the free-standing doors (alluringly built without walls) that open to the monastery's pond. Or, as we see in the film, the master has to occasionally go to the outside world to gather some supplies that he is unable to obtain on his own. But the film is limited in setting, staying in and around the floating cloister. It's like a self-contained floating temple of peace and wisdom.

The seasons bring not only physical change to the surrounding area but the emotional tone of the story. It also brings passing time, adjustment, growth, knowledge, new lessons, new experiences. The film reinforces the notion that just like the seasons, life itself is recurring. Every new year brings the new natural cycle. The plans are born, they grow, they die, and there is a rebirth in different form. The same could be said about life itself, or as anyone who subscribes to the Buddhist faith believes. The movie is a meditation of the cyclical nature of life. It makes the simple story feel much more important, and really gives you a lot to come away with.

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