Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Vengeance and Redemption – MIFF06

The weekend was spent at our parish conference at St Mark’s in Forest Hill. The conference topic was about discipleship and based on stories of King David in the Old Testament and what a flawed character he was.
Here was a man who was committed to his God, could write some of the most poetic and heartfelt psalms of worship and repentance and yet commit some of the most reviled, selfish acts for which human beings are infamous.
One of David’s key stories was his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. While his men were away at war, he fell in lust with the curvaceous Bathsheba and knocked her up. Furthermore Bathsheba was married to one of the king’s exclusive guard and David, upon learning of her pregnancy, had this woman’s husband killed during battle.
Bathsheba then shacked up with David, became his wife and the child was born. The key verse however : “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” The Lord convicted David of his wrong doing, David repented, “David pleaded with God for the child. He fasted … and spent the nights lying on the ground,” but the child died, as a consequence of David’s sin.
Juxta-pose this experience in the morning with the final MIFF screening that afternoon : Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Park Chan-wook’s third ‘revenge’ film started with Geum-ja, now 32, released from prison after 13 years, incarcerated for kidnapping and murdering a 5 year old child. In prison she became a model prisoner, converting to the Christian faith and serving other prisoners by caring for the elderly, feeding the sick and so forth.
Upon her release she is met by the pastor and a collection of sisterly parishioners to welcome her release. She is offered a block of tofu to eat (as it is coloured white) as a symbol of her transformation to a life that is pure, forgiven and free from the evils of her past. She looks the pastor in the eye, tips the tofu onto the ground and tells him to get out of her way. This is funny and tragic in equal measure. She has been plotting her revenge for 13 years and is now ready to put her plan into action.
The ‘good works’ she accomplished in prison created goodwill obligations in her fellow inmates (for example, in one she disposes of the cell bully creatively to the gratitude of those who were most put upon) whose favours she calls on in the outside world.
Known as “Kind Geum-ja” by those in prison whom she helps, an epithet she despises, she tracks down the child’s killer, the man for whom she went unjustly to prison and was forced as a result to give up her own child for adoption.
The play off between redemption and revenge looms large in this film as Geum-ja plots a course where she knows she may never reach the one and fail in her attempt of the other. She tracks down her own daughter who in turn does not understand why her mother put her up for adoption and who believes that any mother that would do such a thing should go to prison for it.
In the words of a very well known Catholic prayer, “it is in forgiving that we are forgiven.” No wonder Geum-ja is racked with her own guilt. She is asked at one point if she intends to kill again. Very matter of factly she replies, “once more.” How can you be forgiven if your sole purpose is revenge ? Has she condemned her soul as a result ?
Consider David again. David and Bathsheba bore another son whom they named Solomon. It is not only the same Solomon who was renown for his wisdom, but it is the blood line that continued through to Joseph many hundred years later, father of Jesus, whom God had promised to his people would be the fulfilment of his promises of redemption.
David’s repentance after the death of his first son led to one of the great psalms : “create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” David’s serious and heartfelt repentance coupled with God’s willingness to forgive leads to the significant honouring of God’s contract with David through ultimately to the birth of Jesus. What does this say about a God so great and transcendent that his own purpose is accomplished and his own glory is revealed despite the flaws and failings of the people who serve him so imperfectly ?
Who then was Jesus and why is he important ? Jesus was more than just a Jewish prophet or desert renegade looking for his own collection of followers. Jesus was God’s son with the very specific task of reconciling mankind with God. Hitherto man had been permanently separated from God with the only means of becoming right with God via the very strict and impossible demands of the Jewish laws. The Christian message proclaims that acceptance of Jesus’ death as an exchange for your sinfulness (that is, your rejection of God) leads to reconciliation with God and eternal life.
And so, does Geum-ja find her redemption ? Geum-ja knows about absolution – that need to make right wrong things that have happened. Guem-ja styles herself as an avenging angel but has not redeemed herself in the process. Is she God that she can make judgements about death and life ? (I know and understand that justice in the context of a movie is a step removed from real life which is just how we like it).
As the snow falls, Geum-ja’s daughter try to catch snow flakes in her mouth as it falls. With her tongue out, is she receiving the sacrament of Jesus (the breaking of bread in a Holy Communion service) as it falls from heaven ? Geum-ja minus her vengeanful-coloured, red eye shadow, clothed in her white dress, plunges her head, face first into a white chocolate cake where it stays until the credits role. Symbolism ? You bet. Perhaps she has found peace at last.

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