The Eye (2003)
Bill Long 4/4/08
A Thriller Worth Your Time
This Korean/Thai movie, directed by siblings Oxide and Danny Pang, tells the story of Mun (Lee Sin-je), a young woman blind since two years-old, who receives a corneal transplant that ends up opening her to the strangely prophetic but terrible world of the original possessor of the cornea, who committed suicide in Thailand. Though the film has its eerie moments, none more eerie than when Mun takes an elevator ride to her 15th floor apartment accompanied by the ghost/spirit of a man whose face was caved in and whose feet didn't quite reach the ground, it isn't really a "horror" movie. It is, in fact, a moving exploration of the pain attendant upon giftedness. The (perhaps unintended) "bottom line" in the movie, at least for me, is that one should be grateful to be "normal," for the world of those who truly are gifted may be more painful to them than one can possibly understand.
To The Story
The film opens with Mun, a gifted blind violinist, who decides to get a corneal transplant. Medical ethics forbid disclosure of the donor's name or reason for donation. While in the hospital she strikes up a friendship with a cheerful 11 year-old girl, Ying Ying, who has undergone repeated surgeries for brain tumors. Mun's operation seems to go well, and the attending physician, Dr. Lo, directs Mun to his nephew, the psychotherapist Dr. Lo, so that he can help her make the adjustment to the "seeing" world. The younger Dr. Lo eventually ends up taking more than a professional interest in Mun, but he doesn't act on it inappropriately in the movie.
We see the world from Mun's perspective after her transplant. The lights glare; the forms seen are indistinct; there is a surreal air about vision. As explained by her doctor, it takes a while for the brain and the eye to coordinate with each other. Fair so far. But then, strange things gradually begin to happen. While still in the hospital, Mun wanders into the hall in the night only to see a distant filmy image of a blue-clad woman who seems to be in pain. In the next scene she is standing near Mun, cold to the touch, and then disappears. The next morning Mun awakens to see orderlies wheeling that woman from her room. She had died in the night.
We as viewers then begin to see what is going on. Not only has Mun regained her sight, but she is now being ushered into a world where she can "see" things before they happen--especially as it relates to people's imminent deaths. In subsequent scenes, she talks to the spirit of a neighbor boy in the apartment complex, whom she later learns had committed suicide by jumping from an open window 15 floors above the street. But she also sees people's imminent deaths. When the person she sees is about to die, that person is accompanied by a dark spirit. In one of the movie's most moving scenes, she sees her little friend Ying Ying happily tell her that she (Ying Ying) will soon be discharged from the hospital. Unknown to Ying Ying, however, the dark spirit attends her when talking to Mun. Mun is awash in tears.
The Pain of the Gift
Thus we are brought to the real "message" of the film, which is the pain, often extreme pain, of the one possessing a gift to see the future--even in this limited way. Not only does Mun's regaining her eyesight mean that she loses certain privileges (she can no longer play violin in the ensemble which has provided her much pleasure over the years) but it also means that she gets the ambiguous gift of the original "owner" of the cornea's abilities. But we as viewers are only gradually brought into this reality, since the fuzzy images she sees along the way, we think, might simply be the reflection of her difficulty in adjusting to sight.
The gift eventually begins to drive Mun crazy. In the folklore of the people, spirits of suicides and of deceased people with significant unresolved "issues" hang around, longing for release. It is these spirits which Mun increasingly encounters in her life. The pain of running through the spirit of a boy just run over by a car and then meeting the filmy spirit on the elevator sends her screaming back to her psychotherapist, who manages to get the confidential donor documents from his uncle (the corneal transplant specialist). These documents send the psychotherapist Dr. Lo and Mun to Thailand and to a rural Thai hospital, to meet a doctor who knew about the girl whose cornea had been donated after her suicide. At first the doctor refuses to discuss the case, citing hospital confidentiality policy, but when Mun, for some reason, speaks the name (Ling) of the donor, the doctor relents. He tells the story of a girl blessed/cursed with the power to see the things that Mun is seeing and who had been so ostracized by the community that she ended up taking her own life.
Dr. Lo and Mun then visit the mother of Ling, a woman who is unreconciled to Ling's death even as she claims to be angry at Ling for ending her life in this way. In another moving scene Mun "sees" the suicide of Ling, who hung herself in her room at 3:00 a.m., and manages to liberate Ling's spirit, as well as what turns out to be the mother's guilt, through her "reliving" the event.
We think, then, that everything is well with Mun. The film now has a different cinematographic "feel." Lights are brighter; colors are richer; faces seem happier. Apparently the "ghosts" of this painful gift have been exorcised. Until--the final scene, where Ling's last fateful experience (foreseeing a great fire which would kill hundreds, and unsuccessfully warning people about the fire) is replicated in Mun's life. Mun gets caught in a fire that kills hundreds. But she and Dr. Lo escape, only to learn that the blowing embers of the fire have re-blinded her. We are to understand that her "gift," carried to her through the corneal transplant, has likewise "left" her.
This thoughtful movie suffered an American remake in 2008, a remake which has already been almost universally dissed by critics. This may make many people ignore the 2003 movie that provoked the remake--a unfortunate situation. But for me the lasting thought is the special pain experienced by many in life who have extraordinary gifts. Pray, friends, for normalcy...
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long