Devoid of dialogue but rammed with deeply disturbing imagery, a mother’s rage triggers a vile oedipal act which tears a family apart
Quite where cinematic provocation ends and crass abomination begins is one of many topics thrown open by this confronting, disturbing and squirm-filled shocker.
In the wake of winning the Golden Lion at the 69th Venice Film Festival with Pietà (2012), it seems that Kim Ki-duk’s head had not been turned by attracting more festival darlings to his work. Instead he produces something that has the iron-stomached cinemagoer twitching in their seat.
Moebius does not so much start, but propel itself down your throat before the celluloid credits have a chance to be digested. We witness inter-family acts of creatively cruel violence that makes your slightly racist uncle at Christmas seem a soft touch.
Lee Na-ra plays the deranged family mother, pushed to the brink of sanity by the blatant infidelity of her husband (Cho Jae-hyun). In a fit of rage she grabs a knife and heads to her husband’s room for her revenge. When he repels her attack, she instead sneaks into their son’s room, played by Seo Young-Joo.
Her rapid disappearance leaves the son and father to solider on in the wake of her act in that room. The father must come to terms with his involvement in the act and his failure to protect his son, while the son must readjust to his deformity.
While the Oedipus complex has proven such a popular topic for textual analyses of films, books and beyond (particularly among student essay writers), there is no need to speculate on the reference here – it is obviously so. Beyond this, the whole film plays out as a Greek tragedy, not just for its moral dimension, but for the sheer brutality that we associate with the distance past.
Once you navigate past the brutal violence and heinous acts, the film’s other most notable aspect is its complete absence of dialogue. While this is not unusual for a Kim film, this lack of words is often matched with its narrative – in The Isle (2000) they are on a remote and peaceful lake, in 3-Iron (2004) they are secretly squatting in strangers’ house. That is not the case in Moebius though – we would expect the characters to have plenty to say considering their actions.
There are undoubtedly points when this concept is stretched and we are taken out of the moment by the mute faces of the characters. However, for the most part it works, producing an impressive piece of experimental filmmaking.
This review has dodged details some of the acts which feature in Moebius. At first to avoid spoilers, but also offering the relief of not having to detail them. This is full-throttle on-screen provocative. One of those films that will likely never fully flush from the minds of its audience. Hardly likely to make anyone’s regular re-watch list, we can’t help but recommend you accept the challenge that Moebius offers. Just once, at least.