By Başak Aydın (Istanbul, Turkey)
Burning. What a movie this was. A woman disappears and leaves everyone behind her to burn.
Even though I love Haruki Murakami’s stories, I didn’t know this movie was adapted from his short story. But when Hae-mi disappeared, it reminded me of Haruki Murakami’s another work, Sputnik Sweetheart. In that story, there’s another woman (Sumire) that goes missing, just like Hae-mi. And again, she has a very close friend, a man who is also the narrator of the story. We watch him deal with his friend’s absence, who he’s also in love with. These aspects are very similar in both of Murakami’s work. And both works leave an ambiguous ending. We don’t know what happened to Sumire and Hae-mi, we don’t even know if they are alive or dead. I kept wondering about what happened to Hae-mi, did she leave to start over or was she killed? Is she out there, happier?
I wondered the same about Sumire. I have to admit, at first I was very annoyed that the answer wasn’t clear. After much thinking, I do believe Ben murdered her. But then I started thinking about the mark their disappearances leave on the rest of the stories and I found what enlightened me is how the people they left behind deal with their absence.
In Burning, Lee Jong-su blames Ben and goes after him, thinking he might have murdered Hae-mi and the movie leaves enough implication to make him and the audience believe that. But Lee Jong-su is an oblivious character. When Hae-mi tells the story of her falling into a well as a kid in the town they grew up together, Lee Jong-su doesn’t even remember if it happened or not. The well story comes back to us later, when Hae-mi’s mother says she never fell into a well and that she likes to make up ‘stories’. But what’s important here is that Lee Jong-su doesn’t even know if she would lie or not, because he really doesn’t know who she is and he never tried to get to know her. And when she’s gone, he’s all left alone to find her and that’s when it becomes clear to us, the audience that Lee Jong-su knows nothing about Hae-mi.
A very similar pattern accompanies Sumire in Sputnik Sweetheart. Although her disappearance is quite different than Hae-mi’s (it is implied she left on her own), the aftermath is quite the same. Her friend K, who’ also in love with her is trying to find out what happened to her and even though he is her closest friend and seems to know a lot about her, he still feels clueless.
I think the movie shows this theme very well, a woman goes missing and the man in her life realizes he doesn’t know her at all because he never really saw through her.
In the end Lee Jong-su kills Ben, somehow avenging Hae-mi in his mind, and yet he still doesn’t know if she fell into that well or not.