June 13, 2021
Much as A beautiful day in the neighborhood took us back to a gentler media environment, MInari takes us back to a gentler rural America, where immigration was not a wedge issue, politically charged as it sometimes is today. Why this longing for what is, after all, a quite recent past? What has changed so much in the recent thirty or forty years?
MINARI, a semi-autobiographical comedy-drama written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, which received the Grand prize and the Public's Choice prize at the Sundance film festival of 2020, also nominated six times at the ninety-third Oscar film awards for films of 2020, in April of 2021.
The Yi family, recent immigrants from North Korea, by way of California, establish themselves in the Ozarks, more specifically in Arkansas, where they cultivate produce intended to eventually being sold to other Korean immigrants in the urban southern United States.
Just as the family is quite successful In adapting to their new environment, both social and physical, not without some challenges, of course, minari is water-type celery that adapts quite successfully in different physical environments.
Father Jacob and mother Monica have two young children. Before their farming project really takes hold and even during its start, to earn a living, they work at the improbable task of sexing chickens at a nearby hatchery.
To better fit in the host society, the couple attends local church services. The parishioners are kind and open to the newcomers. After one Sunday service, a local kid, after spontaneously noticing the newcomer's different facial features, befriends the family's son, inviting him for a sleepover at his home. The host family is not the ideal family, not the one you would expect in rural Arkansas, the father lives alone and goes out for entertainment outside the home, possibly at the local bar, while the kids say alone at his home. Bu the new friends get along just fine.
Much in the same spirit, the farm's beginnings need to call upon some local help and employees. Things turn out pretty smooth, even when a water diviner, arguing his magic stick will find the needed water, is told that his services will not be required after all. Father and son then approach the search for water in what they consider a more rational manner, and father and son playfully repeat to one another that their way is based on more clear thinking and logic than the local water diviner's magic method.
Indeed, the host society is gently and almost affectionately portrayed as having its own idiosyncrasies and somewhat nonrational dimensions.
While coming back from church services, in the family car, the Yi family encounters Paul, their eccentric Evangelical Christian farm worker-employee, walking on the country road carrying a heavy cross over his sloping shoulders. They could have guessed his religious fervor since Paul praised Jesus at every turn during his work at the farm. They offer him a lift, but Paul chooses to continue to praise Jesus by carrying his cross.
The Movie Shrink's analysis
In Francis Fukuyama's book, Trust (1995), the Korean family is presented as the basic sociological and economic foundation of the country. This is quite evident in another acclaimed Korean film, Parasite,last year's winner of the best film Oscar award, where one poor family succeeds at tricking a rich family into believing its lies and accepting its services under false premisses.
In this film, Minari, the family is still the economic basis of opportunity, even though it is not perfect: the couple comes close to splitting at one point, and the young son considers his grandmother as not "a real grandmother"r since she does not cook cookies, as any normal grandmother would be able to do. We are dealing with imperfect families. Aren't we all?
It is through an immigrant Korean family, then, that the host country, America, is looked at. In a way, the Korean way seems like the normal way, the norm of what is appropriate. Viewed in this manner, the water diviner's actions and the evangelical employee carrying a cross on a country road- to praise Jesus- seem more than idiosyncrasies, they are downright non-rational. Usually, it is the immigrant that appears "not quite standard", possibly even not quite normal. But here, the tables are turned, or at least rearranged.
These arguably non-rational (American) dimensions do not discredit the American way, but only offer a glimpse of what is the "American exception", a typical way of doing things.
Because of this moderate view, the film can be "equally cherished by both poles of the American political landscape...and everybody in-between", as Tara Brady of the Irish**Times has noticed recently.
The fact we state that all sides of the current American political spectrum could accept this moderate film tells us, indirectly, that that this political spectrum can today be characterized by strongly opposing positions.
THE LARGER VIEW
Immigration has become, in recent years, a divisive issue in American life, where passionate and opposing views are present in the public space.
This film shows us that was not always the case, even in the quite recent past, in the America of the 1980 s.
Just like A Beautiful day in the neighborhood reminds us of a gentler media time, Minari tellsus of a period when immigration was not a wedge issue.