What Now: Minari and the American Dream

6 minutes
 Image courtesy A24

Image courtesy A24

Filmed in Tulsa and employing more than 170 workers in Oklahoma’s film industry, Minari is a touching film about an immigrant Korean family attempting to make their way in the United States.

Writer and director Lee Isaac Chung manages to create a story that is inspirational, funny, and full of gripping emotion. The father, Jacob, in an Oscar-nominated performance by Steven Yeun, is trying his hand at farming after an abrupt move to Arkansas from California. The family is opposed to the move but support him nonetheless.

A24, the studio known for films like Hereditary and 2017 Best Picture winner Moonlight, is behind the movie. I am a huge fan of A24, and I make a point to see as many of their movies as possible. I was particularly excited about Minari. Foreign films are starting to receive more attention in America since Parasite made a splash at the Oscars last year. But while Parasite is more of a grandiose film with a climax that will shock you, Minari delivers its moments softly—but no less impactfully.

At its heart, Minari is a about family who is trying to attain the American Dream. Jacob believes that if he makes his farm successful, his family will have that dream. His son David, played by rising star Alan S. Kim, has heart problems. This causes stress for his parents, who already have an insane load on their hands as it is. Another highlight performance is Youn Yuh-jung’s turn as the grandmother, who is crass yet wise and serves as great comedic relief.

Many hiccups consume Jacob as he works hard to create a better future for his family, all while his two children are struggling to adapt to life in rural Arkansas. He has marital complications with his wife, who does not approve of his farming career. Domestic struggles are a major part of the film. Just like the minari plants growing by the creek in the movie, this family is out of its territory. Jacob is taking a major risk with his farm, and his family will face the consequences of that risk.

I also must discuss the soundtrack to the movie, scored by Emile Mosseri. It is hypnotic and sweet, with intense moments in between just like the film itself. With incredible performances throughout, this score makes its mark at only thirty-three minutes. I have listened to it about five times, and that will likely double or triple in the upcoming weeks. You can see a live performance of one of the tracks, “Rain Song,” here.

My thoughts after this movie were muddled, but I plan to watch it again soon. I see a family trying to make their situation better, as any family does. Anyone can connect to this story for that reason alone. We have all been out of place and new, where not everyone is nice or welcoming. What you make out of that is up to you, and I think this movie shows a father who gives everything he has to make it happen. After all of the work, whether you succeed or fail, you still have the ones who went through the same hardships.

Director Chung found a metaphor in the minari plant—also known as Chinese cabbage—and how it grows better in its second year.

“The interesting thing about it is that it’s a plant that will grow very strongly in its second season, after it’s died and come back,” Chung told the website Best of Korea in December.

Maybe that is the American Dream: a place of second chances. If so, Minari is a must-see story about redemption and family with an understated sense of childhood wonder at the world around us. Chung has masterfully crafted a subtle yet powerful story that will seem simple at first glance but has layers of detail and emotion to be unraveled. You can see it in select theaters in Oklahoma such as Rodeo Cinema in Oklahoma City and Circle Cinema in Tulsa, or you can stream it online through various platforms including the A24 screening room.

Written By
Erik Charlson

Erik Charlson
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