Humor in Misery: Complex and Conflicting Emotions in The Host (2006, Dir. Bong Joon-ho)
There are several things I must state before this essay. (1) I love being forced to do multi-page analyses on 30 seconds of film, (2) this is a supplemental article for an upcoming article in which I list the top five films I have viewed this past semester in school and (3) I have to admit — I am a procrastinator. I wrote this article during an 10-hour flight to Tokyo in which I had to turn it in immediately when I hit the tarmac and let me say that the person sitting next to me thought I was an absolute weirdo for watching this scene one frame at a time. Anyways, enjoy reading this short analysis and follow to be notified on my upcoming top-5 films article.
The high-angle shot is typically used in cinema in order to display an areal view of subjects and surroundings. In deeper senses, it is often used to display an individual or being’s superiority over another. The Host directed by Bong Joon-ho utilizes this technique in a manner that can be viewed as intriguing. Joon-ho has been applauded for his style of dark comedy which in The Host is not only displayed through dialogue but also through cinematography. A great example of this is the grieving scene in which the family of our main character Gang-du is reunited in mourning the death of Hyun-seo. In this sequence, a high-angle shot is utilized in a unique and clever way that creates conflicting emotions within the audience in which if used with a different shot (ie. wide-angle, close-ups, mediums, or a combination), it would not have generated the same dark comedic effect.
The sequence is set-up as follows: Hyun-seo’s aunt Nam-joo arrives from her tournament — which Hyun-seo cheered on earlier in the film. As Nam-joo stares at the framed photo of what she believes to be her now-deceased niece, both Gang-du and Hee-bong express that Nam-joo brought her a bronze medal. As Nam-joo shamefully walks towards Hyun-seo’s photograph, she reaches out with the medal in hand as though it is an offering for the deceased. Immediately afterwards, her uncle Nam-il steps toward the shrine intoxicated. Once there, he sets a nearly-empty liquor bottle by her photograph as an offering. As the family weeps together, Hee-bong proclaims that the family has been reunited as a result of her demise. The family as a whole begins to cry profusely, huddled into a ball. As this point, the audience is set-up with a scene of a reunited grieving family and therefore should respond with empathy and despair. The sequence immediately takes a separate emotional turn when the family falls to the floor and the audience is switched to the high-angle shot. As the huddle tumbles, they immediately disburse. All four of the family members begin to roll around the floor crying, dragging, and shaking their limbs as though they are toddlers. As the family continues on their tantrum, the press begins to surround the group and take photographs. In reaction, the family tries to hide each other from the press and Nam-il tries to fight the cameras away. As they try to regain composure while trying to fight the press, they consistently fall back down on the floor — their bodies moving reminiscent of worms crawling through mud. Eventually, they all get up; Nam-il pushing away the press, Hee-bong hiding Gang-du in what could be mistaken as wrestling and Nam-joo pulling a flower out of her bag and comically slamming it on the shrine. This recipe for chaos along with the blatant overacting of the family members creates a conflicting comedic mood compared to tragic just several seconds earlier. The overhead shot is what pulls it altogether.
Along with being able to view the chaos unfold through a single shot, what truly makes this use of the high-angle shot darkly comedic lies within philosophical works as early as Plato. What is known as the Superiority Theory of Humor relies on the idea that humans find humor by viewing the suffering of others because it gives the viewer the idea of being solidified within a higher place in society. The high-angle shot utilized within the mourning sequence of The Host forces the viewer to look down upon the family as they suffer — therefore aiding the idea of superiority as they cry and squirm themselves on the floor like worms crawling through mud. This shot, and more specifically this scene altogether, is one of the many uses of dark comedy and shifting moods in which Bong Joon-ho utilizes throughout the film.