story by CHELSEA HAWKINS
This story originally published on iamKoream.com
A subtle, thoughtful documentary film, Planet of Snail, follows the everyday lives of a deaf-blind man, Young-chan, and his wife, Soon-ho, a woman with an undisclosed spinal disorder. The couple is inseparable, supporting and guiding one another; Young-chan at one point calls Soon-ho his “shadow friend.” She is always there to grab his hands and translate the world around him into their sophisticated language of touch. Playing his fingers like piano keys, Soon-ho is Young-chan’s interpreter and through her he experiences the world.
The film — which just recently had its U.S. theatrical premiere — is minimalistic, quiet, and delicate. Deliberately slow in pace, the film chooses to represent the everyday experiences of Young-chan and Soon-ho. The seemingly mundane becomes infused with meaning: when a light bulb burns out, the two must work together to replace it, Soon-ho acting as Young-chan’s eyes as he feels around the ceiling lamp. It serves as an exposition of their relationship; the two function as a whole, working and living together as equals.
Young-chan and Soon-ho live in a world that feels outside are own as we observe how the two rely on each other – and on friends, family and community members – to survive. In our fast-paced, individualistic, tech-savvy world Planet of Snail seems to ask us to stop and reevaluate how it is we interact in our communities. What relationships are we building? Do we know the hollowness of solitude that Young-chan expresses? And do we know the warm, effervescent love he and Soon-ho express towards each other?
Planet of Snail won took top honors at the 2011 International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA), the world’s largest documentary film festival, and is well deserving. While aesthetically pleasing, the strength of the film lies in Young-chan’s monologues; he speaks candidly about his experiences and his feelings, waxing poetic as he talks about what it’s like to be in a world without sight and discernible sound. His words reverberate: “What I can’t see in reality, I can’t see in my dreams because I’m deaf-blind in my dreams.”
The climax of the film is a brief exploration of life apart – but it happens quietly, feeling more like another mini-episode in the couple’s life rather than a changing point.
When Young-chan realizes his growing dependency on Soon-ho, decides to explore travel the city alone for a day. Soon-ho frets but realizes one day she may not be around to guide him – in a perfect situation, a friend tells her, she would live ten years longer than Young-chan, but nothing is guaranteed. Before Young-chan leaves in the morning without her she professes, “It seems we should die together.” Young-chan agrees, saying they will pray before that day comes to go together — in life as in death. But for now, he must learn what it’s like to be without her reassuring hand, without her small fingers dancing over his.
And despite the Soon-ho’s palpable anxiety, the day ends as soundlessly as it entered.
We are absorbed into the private lives of Soon-ho and Young-chan, who bare themselves, putting their relationship under the microscope.
There is something dream-like and romantic about Planet of Snail. It is a tender meditation on relationships and the value of human interaction. A bittersweet exploration of love, loneliness and marriage, the film leaves the viewer humbled and contemplative.