Morality As A Common Theme Across Three Movies A Separation, Joint Security Area And Infernal Affairs: Analysis Essay

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For the final essay of Asia through its movies I am being asked to write an analysis paper on a common theme across three movies from three different parts of Asia. The movies I have chosen to work with are, A Separation an Iranian drama about the dissolution of a marriage; Joint Security Area a South Korean crime mystery and Infernal Affairs a Hong Kong crime thriller. I will be working on the characters of Nader, Razieh, Sergeant Lee Soo-hyeok, Officer Lau and officer Yan from the respective movies. Morality is a common theme that runs throughout these three movies. Even though all three movies are about finding the narrative truth, I will argue that Nader, Razieh, Sergeant Lee are trying to obscure the truth because of their commitment to morality while Lau does it because of personal interest. In this paper I will discuss and explore how the characters’ commitment to their morality leads them to obscure the truth. I will explore the theme of morality through the motivations of the characters and the cinematography of the films.

The characters Nader, Razieh, Sgt. Lee commitment to morality can be seen through their motivations whereas Lau’s motivations show his lack of commitment to morality. In A Separation we explore the morality of the characters. Firstly, even though Nader was not actually the one at fault for the death of Razieh’s child he rejects that he is the one to blame. He continuously lies about Razieh’s pregnancy. One of the scenes that struck to me is when Termeh’s tutor is called to give witness, we can see the difference between Nader and Razieh’s husband. Nader keeps rejecting he did not hear the conversation between the teacher and Razieh. He says, “I did not hear you, my mind is on other things” when brought up by Hojjat that Nader does not believe in God, Nader replies saying, “No, God is for your type only”. Here not only we see Nader lying but strongly defending himself on bases of a higher authority. However, when his daughter Termeh asks him whether he knew that Razieh was pregnant, he admits that he knows. He states, “Do you know what would happen if I said I knew?” (1:33:36min). He justifies being untruthful knowing that he would not be able to provide his daughter and father who has Alzheimer’s if he goes to jail. We also see Nader investigating with Termeh whether he was the reason for the death of Razieh’s child. After realizing that he may be responsible, he goes to meet Razieh and her husband for reimbursement and accept the consequences of his actions. The stubborn personality of Nader is portrayed in this movie shows his commitment to morality. He can distinguish between right and wrong; therefore, he acts accordingly.

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Secondly, Raziah is shown as a timid religious woman earlier in the movie but as we get deeper into the movie, we start understanding her motives. Razieh cannot admit the truth of her miscarriage when asked to swear to the Quran. Earlier in the film, we see her calling someone to ask whether it is moral for her to clean Nader’s father. The way Razieh presents herself showcases her as a tolerant person. After the accident with Nader we see her asking for compensation which is why she lies blaming Nader for the death of her child. However, when it came to her confession, she takes a step backward realizing that what she is doing is immoral. Moreover, the end of confrontation also gives an insight to the morality of Razieh. Although we believe that Hojjat has harsh behavior he is perhaps the one with greater sense of morals. Throughout the movie we see him harassing Nader’s family due to his beliefs about justice. Later when he gets to know about Razieh’s dishonesty, he leaves the side of the argument. He realizes that he was being wrong. Razieh in direct contrast lies in order to gain reimbursement even though it is immoral. We get to know that she is shown very timid but has ulterior motives whereas her husband seems to have an understanding between what is right and what is not. Here we learn that humans can try to justify their actions to convince themselves that they are the ones right. This leads us to understand that Nader and Razieh are lying because of their commitment to morality.

Joint Security Area delves around a complex set of morals than A Separation. Unlike Nader and Razieh Sergeant Oh and Sergeant Lee’s thinking is bounded by their brotherhood and a strong anti-war message. After being saved by sergeant Oh and Jeong Woo-jin we see a development into a strong brotherhood between the two North Korean and two South Korean soldiers. Although they are enemies, they show care and trust towards each other. We know when Sophie Jang confronts Sgt. Lee and Sgt. Oh, Lee is about to tell the truth of what happened on the night of Oct 28 but is interrupted by Sgt. Oh. We see Oh trying to gain the trust of Lee and Nam Sung-shik throughout the flashbacks knowing war does no good and that the quality time they are spending together may go against his beliefs of nationalism and ethics. He still challenges those beliefs in order to have a sense of what is right and what is not in terms of his relationship with the soldiers from South Korea. Both Sgt. Oh and Lee lie in order to obscure the truth and what lies underneath is not only their self-protectiveness however protecting the morals of their brotherhood. They both know that if they tell the truth it will harm both and the peace, they are trying to maintain in the two countries. When asked by Sophie Jang informally Lee admits that there is more to what there seems to. He accepts that he has been lying. He says, “So what will you give me if I tell you the truth?” to what Sophie replies, “something you tried to protect till the end…Sergeant Oh’s safety.” we learn that Lee could not lie until the end, he saw Sophie as someone he can tell the truth to. After Sophie delivers the lighter to Lee, he kills himself knowing he was at fault. Sergeant Lee portrays a strong understanding of his morals. His death justifies his commitment to not only his brotherhood but also to his morality.

In Infernal Affairs which shows a story of a cop being gangster and a gangster being a cop we see different perspectives of morality. Yan, who is an undercover cop, has been working as a gangster for almost ten years and the person who is left who knows his identity as a cop is Mr. Wong. Lau on the other side gets promoted and maintains a position in the police department. We see the struggle of both Yan and Lau to maintain their identities. Yan recognizes that he is becoming more of a gangster since that has been his lifestyle. Yan wants to be recognized as a cop. He tells his frustration to Mr. Wong during their secret meetings. Moreover, Yan is also seeing a psychiatrist Lee. Yan says to Lee, “I’ll tell you a secret but do not tell anyone, I’m actually a cop”. He tells her that he is a cop. Yan acknowledges that his gangster identity is not actually him. His commitment can be seen through his efforts of trying to visibly work as a cop. His desperation is kept alive through his meetings with Mr. Wong. He exclaims, “Drop your gun, I am a cop too” to Mr. Wong. Here we see Yan’s frustration towards his identity crisis.

On the other hand, we have Lau who is also struggling with his identity. Unlike Yan Lau does not want to accept that he is the bad guy. He continuously tells himself that what he is doing is the right thing, making himself fall in his own suspension of belief. Until the point when he calls his girlfriend and tells her that he has decided to be the good guy. However, we see instant failure as he walks out as a cop from the elevator with two dead people one of them being Yan, knowing that he caused the death of Yan and never gave him the freedom of identifying him as a cop. Throughout the movie we see Lau trying to protect himself. He is trying to protect himself from Sam and also from the authorities. He does not want to accept his bad doings and guides himself to clear his bad actions. He is the cause of Mr. Wong’s death and he also kills Sam who is his boss. Although he decides to be more responsible, his motivations are changed after knowing that Yan found out about him being a mole in the police department. Through his behavior we see Lau’s desperation towards protecting himself more than anything else and never admits what he did in the past was cruel.

The motivations of the characters in all these three movies are tied to their commitment to morality. Nader, Razieh and Surgent Lee are trying to hide the truth however admit their reasons of doing so. Their actions are justified through their commitment to their beliefs. While Lau’s motivations keep changing leaving him to be the one who does not care about good and bad but is solely focused on self-protection.

The cinematography in these films add to the theme of commitment to morality. A Separation shows specific techniques of Iranian New Wave (Vick). In terms of aestheticism the film is great, as the cinematography and Farhadi’s use of mise en scene visually explores the lives of the character. Moreover, it depicts the class tensions between modern day Iran and drives into the emotional depth of the characters. The film revolves around the conflict of the death of Razieh’s child a caretaker who is hired by Nader to take care of his father, which leads to a conflict. This conflict then explores issues of morality and law. Throughout the film, there are close-up shot to capture the emotions of the characters. The close ups can be seen when they are arguing, when they speak of their struggles. Farhadi’s mise en scene adds to the themes and plot of the film to a large extent. As he is trying to present the tension between the poor and the elite he touches towards their moral beliefs. The scene where Razieh is asked to swear on the Quran and she begins to panic that shows the degree of her commitment to her faith but at the same time her morals. The portrayal of Nader’s character as a stubborn yet very committed to his beliefs makes him appear to be responsible. For example, the scene where Simin is trying to get him to give the compensation, there is a tension created through these close-ups which makes the matter even worse for Termeh. However, we see the stubborn Nader again trying to prove himself right. When Simin goes to see Razieh where she tells her the truth, it presents a strong sense of difference between the two characters. The suspense created at that scene changes our perspective as to her having ulterior motives behind her actions. The film shows the human and ethical side of Nader’s character as him being the educated man who educates his daughter and has a close relationship with her as well. Their relationship is glorified even more when he comes to admit the truth about Razieh’s pregnancy to his daughter. That very closure to the faces of the characters portrays deeper sense of emotions of the characters which is why we are shown Nader’s commitment to his beliefs very boldly than Razieh’s.

Infernal Affairs present a sense of western technique of gangster movie. The blue green color-based theme adds to the emotions of the characters. We know that Yan is desperate to be working as a cop, the time when he meets Mr. Wong for the first time, and we are exposed to the truth of his identity. The use of music trying increase tension between the characters also highlights Yan’s desperation of getting his identity as a police officer. The movie is based in an urban and contemporary Hong Kong where there is a competition in people’s lives. The depiction of Hong Kong’s lifestyle justifies the reason behind Lau’s lack of morality. In the world of competition all he wants is to have a ‘good’ life. The portrayal of Lau’s character is a depiction of many others who can do anything for self-preservation. Throughout the movie we see moments of Lau spending time in isolation which make the audience confused as we do not know what his next action is going to be. When he is learning the Morse code in order to find the mole, we are exposed to his desperation to find the mole for himself and get praised by Sam, this serves his lack of commitment to morality. The moments he spends in isolation cannot let him come and confess and be truthful.

Joint Security Area is driven by the very conflict between North and South Korea which leads it be as realistic as it can get. the silence created in the movie shows the very tension between the two parties. But a great aspect of this suspense creating technique can be seen when Sophie meets Lee and asks him informally about the truth of the night of oct 28. Chan has created a glimpse of romance there which is why perhaps Lee tells the truth by getting out of his comfort zone. The dialogue is less however, the focus to the characters of Sophie and Lee’s silence draws attention to an emotion driven cinematography. We see a different situation when Nader is talking to Termeh and admits that he knew about Razieh’s pregnancy, here, although the relationship between Sophie and Lee is completely different than of Nader and Termeh, the setting is different in all aspects we see a similar action by both Lee and Nader due to that comforting tension created through cinematography trying to satisfy their commitment to morality.

In conclusion, A Separation, Joint Security Area and Infernal Affairs revolves around the conflict of finding the truth however, through the motivations of characters and the cinematography of the films we see a common theme of morality driving their actions. Nader, Razieh and Sergeant Lee’s commitment to morality can be seen through their motivations and the cinematography; on the other hand, we can see a lack of commitment to morality in Lau through his motivations and the cinematography of the film. This general theme is in some way a guiding factor towards the reason behind Nader, razieh and Sgt. Lee trying to obscure the truth while does not weigh Lau’s self-protection for him.


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