Don't you just hate spoilers? I do, too. That's why I always try to include warnings. However, I sometimes ramble a bit too much here or there and maybe a few (or many) key plot points slip without me giving proper notice. So I'd like to include a blanket spoiler warning for the weary internet travelers of the world: Here There Be Spoilers. You've been warned.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Silenced (aka The Crucible)

Anytime the subject of child abuse is brought up in media there will always be a bit of a kneejerk reaction to it. There's a good reason for that, too. People who abuse children should have their eyeballs sewn to the floor and hot skewers shoved up their asses. People who sexually molest children deserve even worse. When a movie takes on that kind of subject matter a lot of people won't see it just on principle even if they agree with the overall theme of the movie being that child abuse is indeed bad. Most folks can't take looking at children being beaten or molested even if it isn't actually what they are seeing. 

In the West these subjects are often thrown into the "horror" realm because child abuse is horrifying, but no one takes horror very seriously because there's always a bunch of blood and guts and sex scenes and bad characterization thrown around, too. If people are going to enjoy their blood and guts they don't want child abuse mixed in with it. There's something odd about equating horror with fun but that's a discussion for later. While I believe that Jack Ketchum's novel The Girl Next Door is a benchmark for severe child abuse in literature, I would like to claim that the Korean film Silenced (international title) is the benchmark for severe child abuse in cinema. 

However, I know there are horror fans that like watching and reading stuff simply because it is more extreme than what their buddies are reading or watching. I suggest that those folks stay away from Silenced because Silenced isn't a horror movie and shouldn't be viewed as such. There's barely any violence compared to so many other Korean films and there is very little action. 

Actually, this film is more of a courtroom drama, an emotional journey, and a morality tale than anything else. It's not horror.

And yet... this film, that could never have been made in America, will haunt you for a long time. Perhaps it will haunt you even more because of the true story that inspired this one. 

This movie is about the students of the Ja-ae Academy (the fictional stand in for the Gwangju Inhwa School), a school for the deaf, and a recently transferred teacher named Kang In-ho (Gong Yoo in an understated performance). In-ho believe that something is wrong with his students shortly after he begins classes. Many of them are very stand-offish and refuse to open up to him. After a while he begins to notice how bizarre the other teachers act around the students and vice versa. 

There is a reason for this. Albeit a fucked up one. Many of these students have been or are sexually molested after school hours by members of the staff, including the school's principal and administrator. Since so many of the students are orphans or have parents that are special needs themselves the children have no one to turn to. 

In-ho enlists the help of a human rights activist Seo Yoo-jin, but the two of them soon realize that this goes beyond the school grounds. The police, churches, prosecutors, and just about everyone else are actually trying to keep everything quiet. With the system pressuring In-ho and Yoo-jin to keep quiet, they find themselves in an unthinkable situation. 

This movie and the novel that helped inspire it are a rallying cry in response to the crimes that happened over a four year span in the Gwangju City School. When the book was released in 2009 it opened people's eyes to some horrible things that had been happening and the justice that was stolen from so many children. Then when director Hwong Dong-hyuk got a hold of the book he created a movie that turned that turned a public outcry into a public roar that caused the court the reopen the 2005 case, issue harsher punishments, change laws, and close the corrupt school down. 

This movie, make no mistake about it, is a piece of brilliant cinema designed to piss you the everloving fuck off. The children who portrayed the deaf students in this movie are excellent. I don't know how many of them are really deaf, but there are so many fantastic performances all around I don't know where to begin. Some of the scenes they are featured in seem like there almost had to be some editing magic involved. I'm not sure I can believe that some of those kids were really in some of those scenes. Of course, this is a foreign flick designed to shock the audience into action so I don't really know. But trust me when I say that there is no way in hell this movie would have been made in America. It probably would have been poorly handled and even more poorly accepted if it had been. 

Some of the scenes depicting the sexual abuse made me wince and look away and I don't wince and look away very often. It was painful to watch and their screams were painful to listen to. When the children are telling their experiences to In-ho using their sign language you really do feel their pain. The skill it takes to perform in silence while moving an audience is something most actors today don't have in them. Yet so many of these kids did it with flying colors. 

You will be moved. You will be shocked. And the ending will have you believing that maybe the bad guys really do win more often than not. 

That's not always the case, though. Sometimes they do win, but when enough people get pissed off about something you'll be surprised some of the changes that can be made. 

This movie was an agonizing and emotional watch. About halfway through I didn't know if I'd be able to make it to the finish. It is just such a bleak film with scenes of child abuse and molestation that were just soul-sucking even if they weren't the overtly violent type depicted in Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door

I don't regret watching this movie, though. Not for a minute. It's a damn good movie and I think everyone who reaches a certain age needs to watch this movie as a rite of passage or something. These types of things, as farfetched as they may seem, do happen and they happen more often than we'd wish to think. Although this film was filmed on foreign soil and depicts events that happened on foreign soil, it hits a nerve that is all too close to home and it often does so in complete silence. 

Recommended. Just don't make it your date movie for Valentine's Day. 

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