“My Name, Oh Dae-Su, means getting through one day at a time. That’s what “Oh Dae-Su” means. But, God… Why can’t I get through today?”
By Michael Cunningham
What you are about to read is my interpretation of the movie Oldboy. If you haven’t watched it yet then please do, it’s one of the best movies ever made. But be warned: it’s not for weak stomachs.
Quick synopsis: the film follows Oh Dae-Su who is released into the world after being locked up for 15 years for no apparent reason by an unknown captor. This is a revenge film which obliterates any that came before it, except maybe The Count of Monte Cristo. The movie holds a 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 127 reviews and Roger Ebert called it ‘a powerful film not because of what it depicts, but because of the depths of the human heart which is strips bare.’ Spike Lee is also planning on making a joint out of it, so be sure to watch it before he does. This interpretation came to me like a vision after I had watched the film and struggled to fall asleep. Shuffling around in bed I was reflecting on the final scene in the snow, and was wondering why the lady was touched by the words ‘Even though I’m no better than a beast, don’t I have the right to live?’ written on Oh Dae-Su’s letter. Then it hit me, BAM, right in the face! I rushed to wake my cousin up, who I had watched it with, but he was dead. So I started writing frantically, desperate to catch my train of thought before it left the station. What follows is the interpretation…
This week’s reading by Stadler & McWilliam, titled Screen Narratives: Traditions and Trends, dissects the patterns and structures of film, television and game narratives. Stadler & McWilliam take the reader on a journey through the history of screen narrative, from the traditional three-act narrative to the fragmented and multi-strand narratives that have become increasingly popular since Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994). Stadler & McWilliam differentiate between the terms plot and story, which are often confused as meaning the same thing, and they also introduce the structuralism technique for analysing narratives, using the movie Natural Born Killers (1994) as an example. The authors then compare film narrative with television narrative and finish off by exploring the narrative found in video games.
Stadler & McWilliam (2009, p. 156) suggest that movies such as Crash (2004), Babel (2006) and Pulp Fiction (1994) indicate that screen narratives are ‘becoming more complex, adventurous and experimental’, compared to the classical narration style which typically follow a three-act structure (beginning, middle and end), fragmented narratives are often ‘broken up into jumbled segments featuring an array of characters in different places or non-sequential timelines’ (Stadler & McWilliam, 2009, p. 157). I’ll draw from the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) to illustrate this style of narrative structure. The movie begins with Jim Carrey’s character Joel Barish waking up in his bed, he then skips work and catches the train to Montauk. Upon arriving he sits on the beach and opens his diary only to notice pages missing that he doesn’t remember ripping out, ‘it appears this is my first entry in two years’ he thinks to himself. Later he meets a girl with blue hair called Clementine and they appear to hit it off.
The audience would assume at this stage that the movie is running in a sequential order that is characteristic of the classical narration style, but this idea is shot down fairly suddenly. Joel is seen parked outside his girlfriend’s house when a man walks up to his car and asks him what he’s doing there, the scene then jumps to Joel driving in the night, crying over what we expect to be the eventual breakup of his new relationship. We eventually discover that he was crying because his girlfriend had her memory of their relationship completely erased, out of sadness and rage he goes to the clinic that erased her memory and asks them to do the same for him. Joel is asleep for the rest of the movie while scientists on computers attempt to erase his past relationship, the narrative then shifts from memory to memory of the good and bad times that they had together. Eventually he wakes up and has completely forgotten about Clementine, and the audience soon discovers that the sequence of events that then follow lead to the events of the beginning of the movie.