Almost the entire film I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK from director Chan-wook Park takes place in an asylum. The main character (Su-jeong Lim) is convinced she’s a cyborg, refuses to eat for most of the movie, is catatonic for a time, talks primarily to inanimate objects when she talks at all, and has homicidal fantasies ranging from gunning down the entire staff of the facility all the way to transforming herself into a powerful enough nuclear bomb to destroy the world.
Her grandmother had gone insane and been institutionalized as well. Lest you think it skipped a generation, in the mother’s brief appearances in the film, she also is pretty clearly nutty as a fruitcake, even if not to the point where she is institutionalized.
Staff are present in some scenes, but they play a relatively small role in the film, maybe representing that the patients are conscious of each other and interact with each other more than staff.
The quirks of several patients are revealed in the movie: A mythomaniac woman who in between her shock treatments creates wild stories about the other patients loosely based on their actual background and characteristics; a kleptomaniac who only steals things like Thursday and people’s memories; a fat woman who thinks her magic socks enable her to fly; an exaggeratedly polite and humble man who spends all his time accepting the blame for everything and apologizing; and a few others.
The problem is, none of them–definitely including the main character–seems like a real, functioning person with any grasp on reality that I could at all identify with or care about.
In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you have a group of patients that–while they have their foibles and such–more or less could function outside the asylum if they chose to and were allowed to, and a group (the “chronics”) who are mostly drooling vegetables who aren’t able to interact with other people. Few of the patients in this film fit into either category. They aren’t nearly as close to “regular Joes” as the former, and they aren’t vegetables like the latter. They almost all are able to do things like go to the bathroom for themselves, but they live in various bizarre fantasy worlds.
That is to say, they don’t just have certain eccentricities, and they don’t just have a few non-mainstream beliefs (like conspiracy theorists and such); their whole existence is dominated by delusions.
I guess there’s a certain humor factor in that, but other than the playful music I mostly didn’t get the feeling the movie is striving for laughs. But again, I couldn’t feel much of anything for them as people. They aren’t even as much in my world as the average five year old. There’s really no point of connection between me and their weird existence in their own minds. It is almost more like watching animals or inanimate objects than actual human characters that I can feel any affinity for.
So once the novelty of their quirks wore off, I became increasingly bored with this movie. There’s some minimal plot involving their trying to get the main character to eat so she’ll survive (eventually another patient makes enough of a connection with her to trick her into doing so), but I frankly didn’t care what happened to her.
At various times in the film, we’re seeing things that are really the delusions of one of the characters, usually the main character. That can certainly be confusing, but for most of the movie, the delusional stuff is so bizarre that it’s readily identifiable.
Probably this is one of those movies where each of the quirks of the patients is meant to symbolize something the filmmaker objects to in society or whatever. But if so, then that went over my head.
I could see this movie having a kind of offbeat charm for a certain kind of audience–a sort of cult appeal–but I was frankly bored watching almost two hours of a bunch of loons babbling at each other about whatever fairy tale they thought they were living in. I’d recommend skipping this one.