Burning ★★★★★

Second viewing only confirmed my first impression that it’s a masterpiece, equal in stature to Antonioni’s metaphysical mysteries. “I don’t know what to write,” Jongsu says about his creative ambitions. “To me, the world is a mystery.” So here’s simply a vague sketch of a beginning of a reading:

When Haemi returns from her trip to Africa, with Ben mysteriously in tow, she tells Jongsu about a sunset tour she signed up for outside Nairobi. Rather than the expected commune with nature, though, the tour took her only to a parking lot filled with “nothing but trash tourists left behind.” But once the sun started to descend, setting the sky ablaze, she found herself impossibly moved despite the ugly banality of the setting. What moved her so much, she tells Jongsu, is that in the moment of the sun’s disappearance, she felt, “I want to vanish just like that sunset. Dying is too scary, but I want to just vanish like I never existed.” And, beginning to weep as she finishes the story, she tells him how this feeling caused her to well up with tears as the sun finally disappeared behind the horizon. It’s a breathtaking moment in a film filled with many of them. “I feel good,” she says later, during the film’s other sunset, and one of the great scenes in all of cinema. “This may be my best day ever.” This time, she dances the dance of the Great Hunger (“Why do we live? What is the significance of living?”) before the setting sun, though once again she’ll be weeping before it’s over, as if finally beginning to understand somehow the ineffable answers to these questions. “It’s a crime,” Ben later tells Jongsu, once Haemi’s gone and the sun’s set completely. “It takes less than ten minutes to burn it all down.”

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