This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Nick J’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Scientists and philosophers have worked for centuries to discover the secrets and rules of the universe, to discover just exactly how it works and how to get more out of life. They look to discover the laws that govern the universe and how to break them, but alas, some laws are not meant to be broken. I may have failed my science and philosophy classes in college, but three of these secret laws, these ways to govern yourself to stay grounded in reality, have been revealed to me over the years:
1) Do not call Patrick Star tubby.
2) Do not make fun of Josuke Higashikata's hair.
3) Do not call Do-joon the r-word.
"Mother" is an incredible story packaged in an adequate film. After the strange, hypnotic opening of Kim Hye-ja trying to seduce the audience with her moves, the film blazes open with the hit-and-run incident and the subsequent revenge plot involving Do-joon and Jin-tae. Not only does it introduce our characters in a fun way, but it begins planting the seeds of the most effective element of the film: something is clearly wrong and we're not quite sure what. Do-joon is arrested for the murder of Moon Ah-jung and it's unclear just how you're supposed to feel. Did he snap? Would he never hurt a fly? Was someone else involved? The two main characters of the mother and son are likable and relatable, but distant and alien. We get to know them in the film, but we really don't know them...or do we?
It becomes a detective film as Mother tries to find any evidence to piece together a case to save her sweet son, involving tension and turns from one of the most stress-inducing water spills in film to shady encounters with characters we thought we knew. The best part is it never feels like it drags, everything's well-paced and Kim Hye-ja's performance in compelling enough that you want to see her succeed. After all she's been through, you want to see her finally do right after her past mistakes, you want to see her allow herself to get to a better mental state, you want to see the innocent Do-joon get out. And yet, in the back of your mind, you're never quite sure what else lies underneath. If we're going by Hitchcock's famous "bomb under the table" analogy to define the suspense here, there's an unease about if there is a bomb or not underneath the table, and nobody knows when and how it will detonate.
And then holy fuck does that bomb detonate.
Nothing will sink my heart than when Moon Ah-jung insults Do-joon. It was built up in the script and as soon as you hear that word (or in my case, read that subtitle), you know exactly what's going to happen next, not just Moon Ah-jung's fate, but Mother's reaction knowing her quest driven by her love for her child was in vain. The violent tendencies we had gotten to know from the two are brought out and suddenly our protagonists are monsters, what were once character flaws are their character, we were rooting for Yoshikage and Yoshihiro Kira the whole time. We did and we didn't know these people we had followed a whole film for after all and feel betrayed and sad, like a good friend stabbing us in the back just because s/he can. "Mother" is the ultimate cinematic test of trust and maybe, just maybe we have to reexamine how far we will support a fictional character in a film just as how a mother should reexamine how far she will go for her child. And fucking Christ, after that beautiful scene, we have Mother bash the junk dealer's head in for the safety of her son with the worst possible score there could be. It's so loud and grand and generic, screaming with a megaphone to tell us how to feel, and it's so unfortunate that it took me out of the film during the climax.
The resolution is just what it needs to be: the universe finally working in Mother's favor to damn a person without the same luxuries Do-joon had as Mother and Do-joon realize just how horrible they both are and how this cycle cannot change. And we end with Mother just having to deal with it in the only way she knows: disregarding it.
It's such a beautiful and horrible story, so effectively told and so well-acted. I just wish the elements of the film would push it more. A little more exotic cinematography, a little more to change up the rather gray, muted color palette of the film, a better choice for a score. It's a film that's going to stay with me for a while and it's a shining recommendation from me.