Spring summer fall winter ...and spring - A review
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring is beautiful elegant poetic movie with full of symbolism of man's spiritual journey. Change of seasons is inevitable like change in perceptions in life as we grow from childhood to old-age. It is an universal story about the human spirit, moving from Innocence, through Love and possession, suffering, redemption to Enlightenment and finally Rebirth.
Appluase to Director: Ki-duk Kim for this wonderful korean movie drawn like a painting.
The story is split into the four seasons as it begins and ends with spring as the title suggests. The beginning takes place in the spring as an old monk cares for a young boy who discovers the consequence of guilt the hard way as he torments a fish, a frog, and a snake. Like everyone doing harm to other human being or other beings in the environment is an injury to one's own self. This inter-connectedness is beautifully symbolized by the very change of seasons.
The hermitage's sole occupants are an Old Monk (OH Young-soo) and his boy protégé Child Monk (KIM Jong-ho). While exploring the world , the Child Monk indulges in the capricious cruelties of boyhood. After tying stones to a fish, a frog, and a snake, Child Monk awakens to find himself fettered by a large stone Old Monk has bound to him. The old man calmly instructs the boy to release the animals, promising him that if any of the creatures die "you'll carry the stone in your heart for the rest of your life.”
The symbolism of the fish, frog and snake represent show how through our curiosity and greed led to disturb the eco-system where all beings lives in perfect harmony, where one becomes food for the other in the food chain. With man's child like innocence he does not know much much he is damaging nature, unless like the monk-teacher of the movie, spiritual masters make us realize that every creature that we kill by hampering the environment , we will carry the stone of injury for the rest of mankind's existence.
The doors open again on Boy Monk now aged 17 (SEO Jae-kyung) who meets a woman (KIM Jung-young) making a pilgrimage with her spiritually ill daughter (HAYeo-jin). "When she finds peace in her soul," Old Monk reassures the mother, "her body will return to health." The girl awakens desire in Boy Monk and the sensual flirtation between the two of them culminates in passionate lovemaking on pond-side rocks. The lovers are discovered by the Old Monk. The girl, now healed, is sent back to her mother. Forsaking his monastery home, the infatuated Boy Monk follows her.
The boundaries of the mind is really like the door that leads to the tiny Buddhist monastery and also the doors on the "no-walls" inside the hut. We can always be aware of our thoughts and go through a door or walk into our lusty desires without any rules. This is beautifully symbolized when the teenager triggered by the gush of the hormones stealthily beds with the girl. To avoid "warning" creaky door (inner voice) he does not hesitate to walk through the "no-walls" of self control. Not only do we filter our thoughts of desires but also our thoughts of outer actions, which is symbolized by the outer gate in the entry of the lake.
Like the rooster bird that is always engaged in pecking food, our mind always feeds on thoughts non-stop. When the teenage lad leaves the monastery, he takes this rooster, while zipping up the Buddha idol. This removing of Buddha's sculpture from the prayer pedestal and putting in the bag represents the stage of life when we live without an inner enquiry.
The monk uses the same rooster (thoughts feeding mind) to bring awareness to the teenager lad who has broken the boundaries of self control. This is why the monk uses the rooster to pull the boat towards the shore and then opens the vent to allow water to seep in the boat. The "coldness" of the reality wakes the young man of his mistakes and asks for forgiveness to which the monks prophecy " Desire leads to lust to possess followed by anger and then to even commit murder". The monk sees no difference of innocent act of desire and possess and murder that the young boy performed on the fish, frog and snake and now to himself and the girl.
Long absent from the monastery, Young Adult Monk (KIM Young-Min), now a thirty year old fugitive, returns to the raft still consumed by a jealous rage that has compelled him to commit a violent crime. When Young Adult Monk attempts penitence as cruel as his misdeed, Old Monk punishes him physically.
Chanting or reciting or writing of spiritual scriptures bring inner peace by purifying the mind which is nothing but clearing its own turbulences. This is beautifully symbolized by the Old Monk instructing Young Adult Monk to carve Pranjaparpamita (Buddhist) sutras into the hermitage's deck in order to find peace in his heart. Two policemen arrive at the abbey to arrest Young Adult Monk but let Young Adult Monk continue carving the sutras. Spiritual practices not only brings peace in one-self but also peace around people around you which is nicely shown as the warmth shown the two policemen on the Young Adult Monk. In-fact the two policemen finish decorating the sutras before taking Young Adult Monk into custody. Alone again, Old Monk prepares a ritual funereal pyre for himself.
Fire is the symbolism of purification of mind through knowledge. Saffron dress of Hindu, Buddhist and other traditions represents knowledge or the inner light. This is shown at many places but to quote two important places where light of inner knowledge is shown as a candle used for carving the sutras on the wooden floor. The other is the funeral fire of moksha or nirvana or liberation of the old monk. The old monk re-incarnates as a snake to preserve the tradition waiting for the return of the new monk.
The white cat the symbol of purification and awareness is the animal of the fall season...the season of speculation, inner awareness like the observing cat. This inner awareness helps us to overcome the weakness and transcend to the Self.
The doors open on the now frozen pond and abandoned monastery. The now mature Adult Monk (played by director KIM Ki-duk) returns to train himself for the penultimate season in his spiritual journey-cycle. A veiled woman arrives bearing an infant that she leaves in Adult Monk's care. It is a great allegory here. The curious mind of the new monk is to unveil the face of the women who is nothing but the spirit of mother nature who disguises herself as the innumerable beings. We see that the monk placing Buddha's idol on the veil of the women.
In a pilgrimage of contrition, Adult Monk drags a millstone to the summit of a mountain overlooking the pond. He places Buddha's statue on the top acknowledging that he has discovered the Buddha in him who is at the top of the mountain witnessing the unending cycle of seasons and the accompanying ebb and flow of life's joys and sorrows. His discovery of Buddha is shown by unzipping the bag and taken out the Buddha and also carving Buddha out of the winter ice.
... AND SPRING
The doors open once again on a beautiful spring day. Grown from a child to a man and from a novice to a master, Adult Monk has been reborn as teacher for his new protégé. Together, Adult Monk and his young pupil are to start the cycle anew….
The baby boy is his own rebirth but now the boy does not make the mistake of the previous monk-boy who tied the fish, frog and snake. His mind has evolved to a turtle like stage which has a hard shell to with draw its organs to protect while sensing danger.
Both the monks try to transcend into their inner self by "shutting" their sensual organs like the eyes, nose, ears and mouth with pieces of paper inscribed with letter "shut". Later self-forced effort comes naturally and with ease like turtle withdrawing its organs. The new monk uses the "shutting" forcing himself for inner maturity, while the old one does for the final liberation.
Turtle is a powerful symbolic image in eastern spiritualism to denote a matured mind with with draws to itself when provoked by the dangers of external temptations. This is freedom or liberation, when the mind is liberated from the traps of external temptations. When the mind when knows to with draw, is free from suffering. This self mastering is the destination of spiritual journey, shown in the end of the movie Buddha statue looking at the rising sun in the spring of new-life.