THE RIPPLE (2022)
A harrowing view of grief and its consequences, a heart-broken woman relentlessly searches a river for the remains of her granddaughter
Not the ideal date movie, ‘The Ripple’ is a tough watch, and will be especially so for any parents or those familiar with the cruel hand of grief. Much like Lee Chang-dong’s equally difficult ‘Secret Sunshine’ (2007), it is not possible to portray grief without taking the audience to some dark places themselves.
Kim Ja-young, who is a prolific bit-part player in several large Korean films over the past couple of decades, takes the lead role here as the devastated Yebun. In all weather, she spends much of her time searches for the remains or any traces of her young granddaughter, who drowned in the river a year ago.
Unable to move on in any sense, Yebun’s days are spent in pain, crushed by the guilt she feels about her granddaughter′s death. Meanwhile, Okim (Jung Ae-hwa), Yubun’s old friend in the village, passes away from an illness. Yebun then takes care of Jiyeoon (Hong Ye-seo), Okim’s granddaughter and her own deceased granddaughter’s friend.
It makes for an awkward paring. Yebun remains suspicious that Jiyoon knows more information about her granddaughter’s death than she is letting on. At the same time, spending time with Jiyoon is a cruel reminder of time she can no longer spend with her own granddaughter.
Yebun, a corpse shrouder, and Jiyoon, a middle school swimmer, attempt to form a grandmother-granddaughter in the midst of their respective personal losses. They share wounds and must both find a way to heal together. Yebun does share a trait with Jiyoon’s own grandmother – an excess of soju, designed to ease the pain, but only ever making matters worse.
‘The Ripple’ does strum many a dark note, but its ultimate conclusions save it from being an outing in pain voyeurism. That is because it is about how grief can consume those around it, but only by finding acceptance with each other can anyone hope to move on.
It is a film – well shot in its own right – that also uses sound to great effect. There are several flashbacks to events around the death and sound from that time is sometimes echoed into the present, such as police siren allowed to reverberate a few seconds into the painful current day. How that night will forever be replayed in the eyes and ears of those who witnessed it.
Not all cinema is designed for popcorn-munching entertainment and ‘The Ripple’ is not so much a film enjoyed, than one appreciated. Works on grief often tread this path, but there is a very human view here of our incapability of handling such cruel twists.
People will always need their own timescale to process grief, but ‘The Ripple’ asks us to consider the pain we are inflicting on the living as we do this. How a single death can take the lives of many, including those still living.