Published on May 5th, 2011 | by Courtney Hartmann0
South Korean Director Lee Chang-Dong creates a film that shines a delicate light into a dark story of a crime which leads to the suicide of a young, teenage girl. The film is the story of Mija (Yun Jung-hee), a woman in her mid-sixties, who takes care of her grandson and also serves as a housekeeper and assistant for a man paralyzed by a stroke, There is innocence given to the movie’s simplicity as “Poetry” shows how Mija finds strength and solace through the pursuit of writing a single poem.
Throughout the movie, our lead is looking for answers. The main one being: How to write poetry? After she signs up for a class where the goal is to write one poem, her teacher instructs the class to really take in all surrounding beauty, to focus on it and try to really see it for the first time. She takes this quite literally, trying her best to find inspiration, which is restricted by all that’s happening around her. When she is summoned by the fathers of her teenage grandson’s friends who inform her of the crime which has been committed and the involvement that is necessary to make the problem disappear, her reaction is barely noticeable. You wonder if she is even fully aware of what’s happening.
She performs her caretaking jobs dutifully both for the ailing old man and for her grandson who has been left with her while her daughter lives in another city. Also, while balancing her responsibilities, Mija is faced with a doctor’s diagnosis that further complicates her life making it difficult to express herself in the way she wants. She embodies a question with no answer.
The harsher moments of the movie are kept subtle, which changes how the audience is able to view it. The most disturbing scenes are void of violence or intense shock value which is typically used to depict crime or injustice in movies. Just as with interpreting poetry, the audience searches for what is not being said or shown to really understand the complexity of its nature. The common theme of inaction in this movie ironically turns out to be the central action.
“Poetry” characterizes where we find inspiration, depicts the high and low moments of our lives and how we deal with them. Mija finds her poetic voice through perseverance and in her underlying need to find justice. The expression of emotion that she must be feeling can at times be mistaken for ignorance; for the most part she remains calm and quiet. However, it is revealed that when she needs strength the most, she finds the right time for action, truly faces the questions in her heart and turns to poetry to answer them for her.