Poetry begins in a way that is reminiscent of an actual poem, a sort of “Sunrise Earth” if you will. We are treated to still shots of flowing waters, swaying trees, all of which amount to perfect serenity. Against this peaceful backdrop the mood turns in an instant. Mija is in a medical facility on account of tingling in her arms. The physician believes that she has overtaxed her arms at work but is more alarmed by her other symptoms. Mija has symptoms consistent with the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. She is suffering from occasional memory loss. She is unable to recollect the names of basic objects. Mija is embarrassed about this but dismisses it as stress related. Her illness is the centerpiece of this movie. The parallels of serene/poetic images juxtaposed with a woman losing her mind amidst a terrible crisis and a young girl’s decaying body is what makes this film so rich in content.
Mija is a wonderful help to her one client, an elderly man that has suffered a stroke and can no longer bathe himself. She is sweet and comforting as is her way. Feeling rather elderly and philosophical, Mija decides to try something new. It turns out this extraordinary Korean woman has never written a poem. Determined to unearth the true meaning of poetry, she enrolls in a course at the community center. Her assignment is simple. She must write one poem before the class ends. Throughout the movie Mija positions herself alongside poetic stimuli hoping to stir her creative juices. However, as the adage goes, “life imitates art” and vice versa. Only through great struggle, disappointment and tragedy is she able to dismiss the barricade preventing her from achieving poetic truth.
In the middle of struggling to pay the bills, taxing her elderly body for a few meager dollars, and suffering from memory loss, Mija is faced with some unbelievably bad news. Her disobedient and disrespectful grandson Jingwook has joined with his five friends in an unspeakable act. The six boys (all age 16) have mercilessly raped a 16 year old classmate repeatedly over a six month period. Feeling distraught (that cannot even begin to describe how she must have felt), the young girl took her own life. As though it were not enough to find out her grandson is a rapist in addition to a derelict, Mija is asked to pay 5 million Korean dollars to the girl’s parents as recompense in order to save Jingwook’s future from scandal and disgrace. Mija is nearly broke and does not have enough to contribute to a settlement. This puts the school, herself and Jingwook in serious jeopardy.
Poetry is complicated but imminently intelligible. A young man is struggling with peer pressure and commits a disgraceful act. He is the product of selfish and divorced parents that have pawned him off on his elderly grandmother with no real supervision or concept of morality. Mija is faced with the ruin of her only true family while finding her inner voice just as she is about to lose her mind. Parents are forced to sacrifice their financial future to protect their vagrant children. A young woman has killed herself as the result of a heinous crime that shamelessly continued for six months. Given all of this drama, it is no wonder Poetry has been critically acclaimed. This is based on a true story that Lee Chang-dong has brought to life for viewers to feel, struggle through, and begrudgingly comprehend. This is as aforesaid, a film about real life and all of its painfulness, joy, bitter-sweetness, and truths.
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