The controversy that continually surrounds director Kim Ki-duk (김기덕) ultimately stems from his consistent explorations into the nature of sexuality, and the misogynistic representations that arise through them. Director Kim is clearly aware how such explicit sexual debates generate audience interest, as with each subsequent film he seemingly seeks to outdo himself by exploring ever-darker – and for many, disturbing – areas of desire and pleasure.
Incest appears to be director Kim’s current interest as, following on from his acclaimed and award-winning Pieta, comes Moebius (뫼비우스). Featuring zero dialogue, the film is an extremely literal Freudian interpretation of sexuality within the family unit. The story is interesting but far from subtle as the Oedipus complex, female hysteria and phallus appropriation is viscerally reenacted. Ultimately Kim’s film is intriguing to watch, yet Moebius lacks the depth and finesse of his prior work.
Pushed to breaking point by her husband’s (Jo Jae-hyeon (조재현) infidelity, the mother (Lee Eun-woo (이은우) arms herself with a knife and attempts to sever his penis while he sleeps. Foiled in her attempt, the mother then decides to punish their son (Seo Yeong-joo (서영주) instead, cutting off the boy’s manhood. After the mother runs away in shame, the father and son attempt to rebuild their lives and learn to experience pleasure through pain. However when the mother returns, their lives become increasingly fraught.
Director Kim has never been most subtle of filmmakers, yet his work often contains interesting symbolism that alludes to the depth of his characters and/or the socio-cultural issues he explores. With Moebius, however, such sensibilities take somewhat of a back seat as Freudian theories are quite literally recreated on screen. This is acutely ironic as Freud’s work is often rooted within symbolic moments of everyday life, notably in this case the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety, yet director Kim seems unconcerned with such motifs and instead directs the actors to perform the frameworks physically. The result is a mixture of intrigue and horror, as ‘the monstrous castrating mother’ fulfills the promise of her title, while the themes of incest associated with the Oedipus complex become increasingly explicit. It’s thoroughly interesting to see Freud’s theories play out, however the absurdity of it all can occasionally be cringe inducing, or worse, comical.
Roles with no dialogue are challenging at best, but with scenes such as the ones in Moebius it must undoubtedly be extremely arduous. Luckily all three principle actors perform convincingly. Lee Eun-woo is exceptional in her joint roles as an hysterical mother as well as a convenience store clerk. As the mother Lee Eun-woo conveys a powerful raw intensity that is simultaneously frightening yet attractive, while her vulnerability and inner strength as the clerk is touching. Teenager Seo Yeong-joo also performs admirably as the son who experiences horrific trauma. At 15 years old the role is quite a shocking one given the explicit scenes in which he is required, yet he does very well particularly when conveying the pleasure and pain from sadist acts.
Moebius (뫼비우스) is yet another powerful and disturbing exploration of sexuality from director Kim Ki-duk. In quite literally – and explicitly – interpreting Freudian theories on screen, director Kim has crafted a very interesting film yet due to the far from unsubtle adaptation the absurdity of it all can often be cringeworthy and/or comical. Lee Eun-woo is undoubtedly the breakout star of the film as she performs with incredibly intensity throughout as the monstrous jealous mother. Moebius is not for the faint-hearted.