Saturday, April 11, 2009

World Movie Series - 16 - Spring, summer, fall, winter and spring

Our life is a complicated mixture of various aspects. We are not in a constant mood every day. Hour by hour, minute by minute, the mood changes, and hence the character. When we look back at how we fare honestly, we will realize about the deeds we have committed which affected others intentionally. Are there ways to drive away the guilt in our mind and to calm it down? What will happen if the actions committed in haste settle down in our mind like rust and it becomes difficult to scrap them away from the layers of our mind to make it clean? Is salvation a mirage?

There are too many unanswered questions in life. Even though we know the answers ourselves, we fear pursuing them, and are afraid to get rid of the guilt. What will happen if we get to live life as per what the mind says, and then what if we want to be clean and to spend the rest of our lives in remorse?

Spring, summer, fall, winter and spring is one such epic tale which spans three generations.


We see two big artistical gates open up slowly and reveal the stunning image of a Buddhist temple in the middle of a lake. All around, it’s surrounded by mountains and forests and looking at the temple itself is like looking at heaven. We get to see an old pontiff and his very young apprentice. There is a small Buddha statue in the temple, placed inside a bowl- like erection filled with water. There are a few goldfishes in the water. The Buddha is smiling, and the statue is a spectacular one. There is a door placed on two sides of the hall, and the little boy is sleeping on one side. The monk opens the door and awakens the boy. There is no necessity to open the door, as there is empty space all around it. It’s only needed to walk around the door to go to the other side, but that’s not the custom. The initial ten minutes of the film doesn’t have more than a few lines of dialogue. They go to the shore, collect herbs and return back. There is a dog in the temple, and the boy plays with the dog. We see a small montage of the young boy playing in the temple. The visuals are stunning.

One day, while in the forest, the little boy playfully catches a fish, ties a stone to it with a string and leaves it back. The fish is unable to pull the weight of the stone and shudders in the water. The boy laughs. He then does the same treatment to a frog and a snake. The monk silently watches from the back. While the boy is sleeping in the temple, the monk ties a big rock at his back with a rope. In the morning, the boy comes to the monk dragging the rock and complains that he is unable to walk. The monk asks the boy didn’t he do the same thing to the fish? Didn’t he do the same thing to the frog? Didn’t he do the same thing to the snake? The boy answers yes to all the questions, and the monk asks him to go to the forest and free the fish, frog ad the snake from their burdens. If any of them dies, then the boy will carry the burden in his heart to the rest of his life, the Abbott adds.

The boy goes to the forest, dragging the stone and trips down a few times. The monk secretly follows him. The boy finds the fish dead. He frees the frog, and the snake also is dead. The boy starts to cry deeply, as he is now aware of his blunder. The monk watches.


The doors open again, and we see the temple. The apprentice had grown to his teen age. He collects herbs as usual, and he meets a mother and her young daughter. He brings them both to the temple. We see a Rooster now in the temple. The monk has become even more aged. The mother says her daughter is sick, and the master invites them in. The daughter has to stay for a few days to become alright. The mother leaves the next day. Gradually, the teenage apprentice starts to glance at the daughter with lust. It is very natural, and once, he tries to touch the sleeping girl. She slaps him, and the trainee instantaneously turns to Buddha and starts praying fanatically. The girl gently touches him after seeing his predicament, and the door opens. The monk comes in, asks the boy why is he praying in such an untimely hour, and the boy keeps on praying.

The boy then starts playing with the girl in the temple, and the monk looks at this with a smile. They gradually become close, and once, the boy pushes her in the lake and takes her to the shore, and they make passionate love. That night, the apprentice is unable to sleep, and he keeps looking at the girl sleeping on the other side. The girl opens up her blanket, inviting him and the boy secretly goes to her. He tries to open the door in font of him, but fearing the creaking sound, goes through the empty space near the door. It has been filmed like the boy is breaking a custom. They make love.

This continues for a few days, and while they are asleep in the boat after making love, the monk notices. He drags the boat to the temple and pulls the plug, so that water floods in to the boat. They wake up with a jolt, and the boy pleads to the monk to forgive him. The monk says it’s a very natural thing, and desire leads to attachment and it will further lead to killing and orders the girl to leave as she has become alright. The apprentice cannot endure her absence, and at night, steals the Buddha idol and leaves the temple.


The doors open up again and we see the temple. The surrounding has changed. We see a very old monk returning from a neighboring village with a food parcel. He now carries a cat with him. On the parcel paper, the monk reads the news that a man has killed his wife and has fled. It’s the apprentice. The monk modifies the small shrunken cloths of the apprentice as he expects him at any moment. The apprentice returns to the temple. He has changed a lot, and looks like a guy from a city. He is angry to the core and breaks down to the monk that he cannot tolerate his wife going with another person. The monk tells that sometimes, others too will start liking our beautiful possessions. The apprentice stabs his knife on the floor of the temple many times, unable to control his temper over his wife he murdered. He tries to kill himself by sealing his eyes, nose and mouth by cloth. The monk beats him up brutally. The monk says he cannot kill himself. He ties the apprentice to the ceiling and places a burning candle beneath the rope. The apprentice falls down. The monk then writes down the hymns of the Prajñāpāramitā Hrdaya – a sacred Mahayana Buddhist sutra – using the cat’s tail on the wooden floor of the temple and orders the disciple to carve them out with his knife.

At the beginning, the apprentice does this with anger, and slowly his anger dissipates. He does it obediently. Two police officers come to the temple in search of the murderer, and the monk says it will take a day to finish up the carving. The apprentice carves all through the night, and faints. The police officers and the monk start painting the carved out sutras. The apprentice wakes up after a long time, and sees the entire floor painted with the carved out sutras. He then goes with the police officers in the boat. The boat stops in the water without moving further, and the monk waves his hand. The boat then moves. Later, the monk creates a pyre in the boat, sits inside sealing his nose, eyes and mouth using cloth, and burns himself.


After many years, the doors open again, and we see snow everywhere. The entire lake has frozen. We see a middle aged man (Kim Ki Duk himself). He slowly walks towards the temple, and offers his salute. He then goes to the frozen boat, salutes it and digs out the bones of the old pontiff. He places the bones in a red cloth and places it as the ‘bindi’ – the dot in the forehead - of the Buddha he earlier carved in the snow. We see a snake this time inside the temple. He cleans the temple and starts practicing the vigorous meditative customs, in the freezing winter. One day, a lady comes to the temple with her child, covering her face. She stays there and at the night, leaves the temple secretly, placing her child at the temple. She staggers in to a hole in the ice the monk dug when he arrived, and dies. The monk pulls the body from the ice the next day.

The monk now ties a big stone at his back, and starts to climb the tallest mountain nearby, as repentance to all his deeds he committed in his life. He painfully climbs the mountain finally and places the statue on top. From there, the temple looks like a tiny dot.

Spring, again

Now, we see the cycle complete. There is a little boy at the temple with the monk. The little boy plays with a Tortoise now. We are reminded about the monk, who did the same in his younger days, torturing the fish, frog and the snake. The movie ends with the beautiful shot of the status at the mountain, and the temple looking like a tiny dot.

Spring, summer, fall, winter and spring is a touchy tale about the cycle of life. What we did will come back to us. This concept is told in pictures. Everywhere in the film, I just felt like I’m walking inside the jungle surrounding the temple. The cinematography is excellent. I’ve never seen such a beautiful location anywhere.

Also, during every season, a different animal is used to portray the seasons. A dog, a rooster, a cat and a snake. There are a lot of allegorical meanings attached to them.

At times, when Kim Ki Duk shows us the mystical temple through long shots, it felt like heaven. I felt contented just seeing the shot.

There is also the untold story of the old pontiff we see at the beginning, that he might have also faced such a life, before he came to the temple. The movie makes us to think a lot.

The music too, is wonderful. For the first ten minutes, I didn’t hear a single chord other than the small bit playing when the doors are opened. That too, the music is not boisterous. It uses the exact music we hear at Buddhist temples. Not a chord more; not a chord less.

Watching this film was a wonderful experience which cannot be expressed. Watch it and feel the peace in your heart.

See the trailer here.


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