Never one to shy away from the taboo, Korean filmmaker Kim Ki-duk’s new film Moebius contains scenes of castration, masturbation with a rock, incest, rape, penis eating, and (on a lighter note) infidelity. I know what you’re thinking, “Finally! A movie I can relate to!”
Kim’s last film, the familial revenge film Pieta, contained many of these same grotesque elements (a toe gets eaten instead of a penis), but presented them in a stark, serious manner. Moebius is more of a darkly perverse comedy, as long as you have a darkly perverse sense of humor, that is. Miraculously, these gruesomeness of the plot manages to add up to something much lighter than Pieta. Maybe “lighter” isn’t the right word when so many provocative images are flashing before our eyes. Images that Moebius depends entirely upon because there’s absolutely no dialogue.
It wasn’t until about the 20-minute mark when I realizes there hadn’t been any dialogue. I figured Kim is a big fan of The Mechanic (the Charles Bronson one, not the Statham remake) and wanted to toy around with a wordless first act. But besides some screams of pain and pleasure, not a word is spoken in Moebius and it works very well in an impressive display of acting and nuances.
The first five or so minutes is a good gauge to tell whether you’re going to be down with the rest of the film. When Mother (Lee Eun-Woo) snaps over Father’s (Cho Jae-Hyun) infidelity, she attempts to castrate him. He fights her off, so she goes for the next best thing: her Son’s penis. In complete shock, her Son (Seo Young-ju) watches in horror as Mother eats his penis and takes off into the night.
Like I said, it’s a comedy.
From there, Kim takes his story into even more extreme and ugly places. That’s where the humor resides. You can’t watch a castrated young man masturbate by rubbing a rock on his foot and take it seriously (I hope not, at least). Kim treats the material with an almost farcical touch. He knows how ridiculous this stuff is and as Son and Father explore different paths to getting off without a penis, it progressively gets more drastically absurd.
That being said, Kim does treat his themes in a considerate manner. Avenues like atonement, masculinity, sexual desire, and, most blatantly, Oedipal love are explored in a sincere way. The film wears it Greek tragedy concerns on its sleeve. It doesn’t always work, particularly during the climax when Mother returns for one last dysfunctional reunion. And for all of its graphic moments, the Young Woman that Father sleeps with is treated the most unpleasantly, in a way that turned my stomach a bit.
Moebius is a really difficult film to like. If it doesn’t make you want to vomit, hopefully it overcomes you with the blunt power of its storytelling. Certainly Kim’s most deliberately shocking film, Moebius also displays the auteur’s ability to masterfully tell a story while balancing his themes with extreme stuff like, uh, penis eating.