BYU’s Carl Sederholm connects the South Korean horror film The Host with the disasters we experience in our society today.
PROVO, Utah (Oct. 31, 2017)—In 2006, Bong Joon-ho’s third feature film The Host opened in South Korean theatres. In only 21 days, it sold 10 million tickets. On the surface it seems like a classic monster movie, but Carl Sederholm, Chair of the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters, thinks otherwise. Multiple events in the film are based on actual events in South Korea, and many of the film’s themes mirror the disasters the global community faces today.
“[The Host] is a mixture of monster movie, outbreak narrative, news reportage, true crime, mental trauma, and slapstick comedy,” said Sederholm. Sometimes called a “mash-up” of contrasts, Sederholm believes “it’s precisely that looseness, that willingness to depart from the narrative that makes the film feel closer to a new chapter than a reread.”
The film centers on a monster that emerges from the Han River multiple times to attack people—often with deadly consequences. The story follows one family as they try to rescue a daughter after she is taken alive by the monster. Sederholm was particularly interested in what the monster represented. According to the movie, the monster’s creation is set into motion when a mortician on the American military base in Seoul poured embalming chemicals through the drain into the Han River, the primary source of Seoul’s drinking water. This actual event, which happened in 2000, prompted “an editorial . . . in the Korean newspaper that argued that the United States of America did not consider Koreans human because they were poisoned,” Sederholm said.
The second true event the movie incorporates is a high number of suicides in South Korea, which feed the monster in the movie. In reality, an intense economic crisis in Asia in the 1990s led to suicide rates increasing by 58% during those years. In the film, as a jumper stands on the edge of the bridge over the Han River, he sees a dark shape moving in the water—the beginnings of the monster. But Sederholm believes the monster also represents a different kind of monster, “created by a host of globally networked institutions” that led to the economic crisis critiqued in the movie.
“For me,” Sederholm continued, “[the monster] forecasts a lot of concerns that we’re having now with mass attacks and mass outbreaks.” He cited natural disasters, national and international terror attacks, and mass outbreak of disease. “Attacks push beyond national borders,” Sederholm said. He quoted Homay King as saying, “Historical trauma [and] mass disasters [are] shared, global phenomena whose shocks reverberate beyond the immediate victims of catastrophe, and beyond the municipal boundaries of any given city, region, or national cinema.”
Sederholm views the monster in The Host as a singular representation of the disasters and pollutants of our society. It calls into question the ethics of our dealings with one another and reminds us that trauma from disaster is universal, shared, and timeless. Sederholm asked the audience to watch the film with current events in mind because, although the exact disasters the film refers to are not the ones affecting us today, viewers should remain conscious of the monsters in our world, eleven years later.
—Olivia Madsen (B.A. French language, ’18)
Olivia covers events for the International Cinema, part of the College of Humanities. She is a senior pursuing a degree in French language with a minor in international development.