‘Minari’ haunted me by what he left out


Growing up, I never saw my Korean-American parents touching each other. No hugs or kisses, or even patting on the back. It wasn’t the byproduct of a loveless marriage, just the aftermath of a survival-centric life – that endless list of unsexy chores. I have lived 30 years without recognizing these biographical details, accepting that the nuances of my life could never be part of the mainstream culture.

This year watching “Minari” challenged that assumption. For the first time, I saw my parents and all of their platonic mannerisms projected with 4K clarity. I felt seen. But watching and relating to this loving film about a Korean-American family vying for a better life in rural Arkansas, I also felt heartache.

This is because “Minari” was not a film about an emotionally supported family, nor about East Asian parents who thoughtfully passed on their traditions, or about a woman with so much influence in them. family decisions than her husband. Just like in my own life, I thought.

Noting these omissions reminded me of the realities accepted by immigrants in the pursuit of the American dream and the full and uncomfortable picture of the immigrant experience that we rarely see on screen.

Because “Minari” does not rely on stereotypical immigrant ideas, some of these nuances might have been harder to notice. As in reality, hope and suffering occupy the same scenes.

The emotionally supported lost part of the family struck me as particularly poignant because it defined my own relationships.

‘Minari’ dares to show sympathy for an emotionally distant patriarch and his relatively helpless wife – characters familiar to Michelle No, a child of immigrants. | MATTHIEU BOUREL / THE NEW YORK TIMES

In “Minari,” the family is run by Jacob and Monica Yi, Korean-American immigrant parents who work tedious jobs as chicken sexers, sorting chicks from females from males. The couple, along with their elementary school age children Anne and David, have just moved to land in rural Arkansas. Jacob hopes to turn the site into his own farm and cultivate Korean produce to sell to local vendors.

Starting a farm with limited funds – while working full time – is not easy, and Jacob quickly rushes to tend his crops. We hardly see him as a caressing father or supportive husband. The few times he spends time with his son are while he is working on the farm.

In one scene near the end, Jacob’s absence from his family is manifested in a more acute way.

Jacob and Monica drive David for a heart checkup. Hoping to recruit a new salesperson for the same road trip, Jacob drags a box of fresh produce with him. When the family arrives at the doctor’s office, Jacob is reluctant to leave their products in the car and sends the family forward while he searches for a shady spot. In check, he shows up several moments later with the box of products in his hands, having prioritized his safety over his timely presence at David’s date.

The situation looks innocent enough. Jacob saves his produce from the sweltering heat and makes it to the date, albeit late. But this is one scene among a series of scenes that make it clear where her priorities lie.

As someone who grew up with a workaholic father myself, I know how that relationship plays out between scenes: strained attempts to bond with an emotionally distant parent, the regular urge to temper anger, and, possibly the feeling that you have to do something. truly exceptional to deserve his attention. But Steven Yeun’s portrayal of Jacob is also accurate because, like my father, I know his flaws are the result of his total – though sometimes inappropriate – commitment to the financial stability of the family.

“Minari” also reminds us of how heritage is never mentioned and ultimately lost in the hard work of assimilation. While most of the dialogue in “Minari” is in Korean, we never get a glimpse of Monica and Jacob passing their traditions on to Anne and David in any meaningful way. Korean heirlooms that children inherit end up in the form of food, which sometimes repels David.

I felt sad to see David sending his grandmother away, saying she ‘smells of Korea’ and pushing her medicine away. hanyak (that dark brown liquid that we see him drinking from a bowl). I never had a close relationship with my grandmother and never had the chance to connect with my culture in a way that would make me feel at home if I were to live in Korea. Watching “Minari” made me feel like I was watching the origin story of my Korean-American identity crisis.

To understand the Yi Family, you also need to recognize the outdated gender roles that families fall back on when they start over.

Despite her strong opinions and clear sense of self, Monica ultimately has little power as a wife and mother. It’s not Monica who decides where to live, what to do with their land, or how to spend their money. It’s Jacob. And looking at her fierce determination to enforce her decisions, we understand that Monica’s opinion has little influence. As a Korean-American, I was not shocked by this power imbalance – South Korea operates as a deeply patriarchal society, and when many immigrant families move abroad, they import sexist notions. who have structured their lives at home. (It’s true almost everywhere that in times of crisis – like the current pandemic – women often take on more household chores.)

Of course, whether it’s a helpless mother or an uncertain understanding of where they come from, Anne and David are aware that there are pieces missing in their lives. Or at least they will be at some point when they become adults.

As many immigrants know, these struggles are inherited by the children of immigrants, their learned trauma revealing itself in a less poetic way: in a lingering belief in conditional love, in a fragmented (not Asian enough) sense of identity. , not American enough), and a clumsy and outdated understanding of gender roles.

“Minari” is a powerful film because it dares to lay bare these painful opposites which contribute to our happiness.

“Immigration stories are family stories,” film director Lee Isaac Chung said in an interview with NPR. “What is often overlooked in this story is the fact that a lot of it happens because of the feeling of love, that feeling of wanting to sacrifice one another for the other.

In “Minari”, these daily sacrifices are represented by what is not shown, by what the family learns to do without. And finally, by allowing a Korean-American family not to be really defined by this suffering, the film somehow comes to an incredibly honest portrayal of life as a newcomer.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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