Eden (2012): Reality or Aesthetics?

*I recommed whoever comes across this post to watch the movie first! There are spoilers! More importantly, it might not make sense!

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What is the purpose of a film?

Human trafficking is a serious problem and there is much power in films that deal with such issues. The topic itself speaks to the audience and gets them to think about crimes committed in our world that are often left unnoticed. The audience might leave the theater thinking that a film was great simply because it made them think about something different for once. But then it would mean that it wasn’t the film that stimulated their thoughts, but the topic it used convey something as a film. To be honest, I wasn’t too moved by this film, and now that I think about it, I think it was because I wasn’t sure what the intention behind this film was.

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The natural expectation with films that revolve around such sensitive issues is that they will shock the audience with a sense of reality. Almost as if to fit this expectation, Eden is based on a true story, and it seems like this was actually an aspect that the producers used to appeal to the public when it was first released. As all true stories are, there is not much drama (in comparison to some other films about human trafficking). The producers might have thought that simplicity would enhance the realness of the film, but by doing so, they sacrificed the effect of moving the audience. It is not just the lack of nudity or violence in the portrayal of events that makes the movie come across to me as blend, but it is the lack of emotion and story behind the characters that contribute to the sense of distance I felt after watching.

There is no question about Jamie Chung’s acting. She makes her character believable. She is great. But the emotions and the change of character I saw from the protagonist she plays were not detailed enough to understand. The audience are not provided enough background of her (the only look into her past is from her dialogues with her parents that do not say much thanks to awkward Korean dialogues and poor acting by the parents) to understand what she was like before the incident, her loss of innocence is depicted with a lacking sensitivity, and the decisions she makes are strangely timed (there were several moments when I thought she could have done that then if she was going to do it now). I couldn’t connect with her to experience the incident in her shoes as the film should have made me do if it were intending on giving the audience an effect that goes beyond the theater to thoughts on real life.

Apart from the main character, Eden’s friend in captivity made me tilt my head a little in the scene where she cries and wishes to stay in captivity after pregnancy. How becoming a mother would have changed her character is understandable when one really thinks and makes assumptions about it; but not only is this issue another heavy one that shouldn’t be lightly covered in one or two scenes, but the assumptions I had to make seemed to be a bit too much work for those on the side of the audience. The man who is in charge of Eden and the other captives also must have had a story to tell, as he has a background of serving the army and seems unsettled under the orders of the chief. But none of these emotions are looked into during the film. There was a chance for this though. In the scene before his death when he says to Eden, “There’s only you and me. I want you to know that,” I was excited to see some true emotion from him! But no. He dies right after. Again, this scene made me question Eden’s character, because this made her seem in total loss of compassion or any other human emotion with only a desire to escape.

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If the film was not meant to strike the audience with reality, then was its purpose aesthetics? There were certainly scenes that made this film artistic, like the close-up of Eden’s ankle when she cuts herself lose. But then I have to ask, was it suitable for a film about human trafficking to present to the audience the beauty that exists regardless of its tragedy?

Directed by Megan Griffiths. Starring Jamie Chung.

 

A film about human trafficking that leaves a stronger impact: Blind Mountain (2007)

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