Moebius (2013)

Moebius first published by Film4

Synopsis: Korean bad boy (and Buddhist) Kim Ki-duk writes and directs a story of emasculation, self-torment and enlightenment.

Review: Furious at the affair of her husband (Jo Jae-hyeon) with another woman (Lee Eun-woo), a wife (also played by Lee) tries vengefully to remove his penis with the knife that they keep hidden beneath a bust of Buddha in the family home. When she fails, she instead removes – and devours – the manhood of her adolescent son (Seo Young-ju), and departs in a rage. Guilt-ridden, the husband has his own penis surgically removed, and aided by some web searches and the painful application of pumice, father and son struggle together to live full, even sexual lives in their emasculated states. The son begins an odd affair with his father’s former lover, and eventually has his father’s penis reattached to his own body, with only moderate success – but then his mother returns home…

In many ways, Moebius is a classic Kim Ki-duk film. It has the bizarre love triangle (and golf clubs) of 3 Iron (2004), the mute protagonists of The Isle (2000) and Bad Guy (2001), the Buddhist parable of Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… And Spring (2003) and Dream (2008), and it stars Jo Jae-hyun, a semi-regular leading man ever since Kim’s feature debut Crocodile (1996).

Most typically of all, it is provocative in the way it strips its characters down to their raw drives and emotions, and does not shrink from the more violent and sadomasochistic aspects of relations between the sexes. Yet what makes Moebius stand out from the rest of Kim’s oeuvre is its sense of humour – the comedy is dark, no doubt, but nonetheless ever present, and only amplified by the writer/director’s decision to have none of his characters utter a single word on screen, but to react to all manner of taboo-breaking extremity with Chaplin-esque non-plus.

Beneath all the incestuous antics and phallus-free fun, there is a Freudian subtext allegorising the legacy of sexual hang-ups that parents leave their children – and that too is underpinned by the son’s spiritual journey (under the gaze of Buddha) towards liberation from the trappings of a material, corporeal life. So Moebius is absurd, shocking – and quite possibly profound. Certainly well worth a watch.

In a nutshell: Outrageous silent castration comedy on the surface, Oedipal psychodrama underneath, and Buddhist parable throughout.

© Anton Bitel