Sunday, March 10, 2013

Jorge Luis Borges, Mirrors, and Kim Gok’s and Kim Sun’s White: The Melody of the Curse

The great Argentine man of letters Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) had a few treasured images that he returned to over and over again throughout his body of work: knives, tigers, labyrinths.  Also mirrors, which is interesting, because they scared the shit out of him (it would be sort of like Graham Greene populating his works with birds; Greene was terrified of birds).  For Borges, the mirror’s horror consisted of its tendency to replicate images ad infinitum.  If you place two mirrors in front of each other, they theoretically reflect each other’s images into infinity.  Infinity is a horrifying prospect, an abomination of space and time (and Borges wrote a famous essay called, “A New Refutation of Time,” from which Digable Planets got the title for their album, Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). It should also be noted that Borges wrote an essay called, “On the Duration of Hell.” Borges’s courage in confronting these terrifying concepts is impressive to me.  It would be like me writing an essay called, “Spiders, Lots and Lots of Spiders.”)

The mirror is also one of the most consistently used devices in horror movies.  It usually goes something like this: a person goes up to one of those combined mirror/medicine cabinets (and I’ve never lived in a place that had a medicine cabinet; for the longest time I thought they just existed in movies, but I’ve used friends’ bathrooms, and some of them have medicine cabinets), I say, they go up to a medicine cabinet, they open it, fish around in it for a bit, and then close it, and suddenly there’s some scary shit right behind them reflected in the mirror that wasn’t there before.  Now, the old ghost-in-the-medicine-cabinet-mirror gag is hardly original, but I understand why filmmakers keep doing it; it is the ultimate jump scare; I am never not scared when I see this in movies, even though I’ve seen it done to death.
White: Melody of the Curse.
Now, in the 2011 Korean film White: The Melody of the Curse (released in the U.S. as just White), writer-directors Kim Gok and Kim Sun up the ante; it’s not just medicine cabinets; the film is positively swarming with mirrors (like spiders! a swarm of fucking spiders!), featured most prominently in the dance the studio where the film’s doomed girl-pop quartet (or “showcase,” as the Koreans seem to call them) do their rehearsing.  Imagine the horror of ten mirrors reflecting an Asian horror ghost! (NB, the typical Asian ghost has bleached-white skin and black hair, but the ghost in this movie has bleached-white skin and white hair; variations like this, minor though they may seem, are rare in Asian horror; kudos to the two Kims).  White is probably the best mirror-centric horror movie I’ve ever seen; certainly it relies upon the horrifying potential of mirrors to an extent unprecedented in my movie viewing experience.

And hopefully someday the time will come when we can make a mirror-horror movie along Borgesian lines, where the implication of infinity will be enough to fill us with unspeakable dread.

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