BY Ethan Soffe
“Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”
These words originated from the poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox in her poem “Solitude” and embody the idea of the sloth, or more specifically, exclusion from others. OLDBOY (Park Chan-Wook, 2003), which is based on the Japanese Manga of the same name and the second part of Park Chan-Wook’s VENGEANCE trilogy, features this quote prominently. Wilcox’s quote underlines the fundamental narrative of OLDBOY in its depiction of the “sloth” sin. The film centres on Oh Dae-Su (Choi Min-Sik) and his path of revenge after being kidnapped and imprisoned for 15 years with no knowledge as to the reason behind his captivity or who confined him. The fundamental moment that symbolises “sloth” is Oh Dae Su’s imprisonment.
The crucial imprisonment sequence transpires early in the narrative and showcases Oh Dae-Su’s complete isolation from society within a small cell, adorned in the décor of a hotel room. The cell is small with no windows and the same food is served through a trap door every single day, but there is a television in the room. Oh Dae-Su views this television as his companion, his teacher and his only remaining connection to the outside world. Besides this, basic societal needs - his self-esteem, relationships and social standing - are deprived within these 15 years of incarceration. His lack of communication with others and his isolation influences an animalistic nature in his actions ; the cell is like a cage in a zoo holding him captive. Oh Dae-Su is forced into a more primitive state and must rely on his own wits and strength to maintain his sanity.
Time plays a role in enhancing slowness, due to the 15-year period which Oh Dae-Su is incarcerated. Ultimately time becomes both his enemy and something that defines him. He is subject to the torture of time disappearing due to his disconnection from society and ignorance regarding major events that occurred during his confinement. Time is subsequently a figurative god in his cell, commanding Oh Dae-Su’s miniscule world and behaving as an unknown guardian that perpetuates in his isolation.
Consequently, Oh Dae-Su must adapt to this sloth time to maintain his mentality and revenge-driven goal. Time strengthens the sinful environment of Oh Dae-Su’s imprisonment by apprehending his ability to remain organised and dominant through its gradual nonexistence and manipulation. Time pushes Oh Dae-Su to question his own sins from the past through this confrontation.
OLDBOY challenges us by forcing the fatigue of the central character in order to sympathise with his goal of revenge. Director, Park Chan-Wook’s brutal approach to showcasing this path of vengeance takes us on a hyper-violent and tragic journey through the eyes of Oh Dae-Su. His approach highlights his sinful sloth condition and his retaliation against this sin forces us to confront our own moralities.
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