Rooted in Family, Faith, and Farming, ‘Minari’ is a Timeless, Thought-Provoking Watch
The Oscar-nominated film’s deeply personal, beautifully-nuanced storytelling is one that is universal and relatable—no matter who you are and what foundations you’ve built your life on
There’s an ubiquitous gentleness that hangs over Minari throughout its near two-hour run. I found it a bit difficult to settle into its disarmingly soothing approach in the beginning, likely due to the preconceived notions I have of any story about the American Dream. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—this is hardly ever a walk in the park, especially for a family of Korean-American immigrants leaving a life in California to farm in Republican-leaning Arkansas.
Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) is the instigator of the family uprooting. He finds no dignity working as a chicken sexer, a job that forces him to confront the need to be useful to society each time he culls the male chicks to be disposed of. His entrepreneurial aspirations have him relocating his family to a vast plot of land, where he hopes to grow Korean vegetables to sell to his fellow immigrants looking for a taste of home. His wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri), isn’t at all onboard with this move. Preoccupied with their son’s heart condition, she is disappointed by the new living conditions that Jacob’s dreams have forced on them. This leads them to argue almost every night, which unsettles their children Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim). Hoping to make amends, Jacob brings Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung), Monica’s mother, to live with them.
The film expertly tells its characters’ stories through dichotomous relationships. Jacob is a dreamer, but he’s also a rational man; anything that goes against logic outright offends him. Monica craves stability, but she’s a woman of faith and superstition. Jacob wants to thrive; Monica wants to survive. He builds his faith on a farm; she farms her life on faith.
Soon-ja and David, who have been described as having the dynamic of a tragicomic duo, are also polar opposites. David is cold towards Soon-ja in the beginning simply because she does not fit the profile of what he thinks a grandmother must be. Instead of baking him cookies, she makes him drink deer antler soup. Instead of being kind and sweet, she wears men’s underpants and watches wrestling. She is from the old country, whereas he was born and raised in America. The only outlier seems to be Anne, who serves as a witness to events rather than a driving force for the narrative.
Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung also sets up a clever dichotomy between fire and water. When Jacob’s well runs dry, this jeopardizes his produce and the family’s day-to-day life, driving an even bigger wedge into his already strained marriage. When a fire destroys everything they’ve worked so hard for, Jacob and Monica find their way back to one another by choosing to save each other. What gives them a second chance is the resilient minari itself, which grew from the seeds Soon-ja planted by the creek.
It’s worth noting that Chung isn’t rehashing the immigrant experience. Instead, he is sharing a deeply personal and riveting story founded on family, faith, and farming that resonates with a broad audience. Minari is best experienced when you let the gentleness of its storytelling soothe you. No matter who you are and what foundations you’ve built your life on, you’ll see a little bit of yourself or someone you know in the characters, who are both the backbone and heart of the film. Universal in appeal, it’s a timeless, thought-provoking watch that is worth revisiting.
Lead photos courtesy of A24 and IMDb