Watching this Korean movie, “Planet of Snail,” I couldn’t help but think of Joseph “John” Merrick who is best known as the Elephant Man. The disabilities in this movie are not unsightly, but because this movie deals with the marriage between two disabled (or differently abled) people, I thought of how Merrick forlornly wished to meet a blind woman who could love him.
Merrick never found his blind love, but for in “Planet of Snail,” a South Korean blind man has found the perfect mate. He married her and their biggest concern seems to be what if. What if she should die first?
Director Yi Seung-Jun doesn’t provide us with a narrative to explain the situation. He gives us little framework for what we see. We come to understand that Young-Chan is blind and deaf. His wife Soon-Ho suffers from a condition that has twisted her spine and stunted her growth.
We don’t see their parents or hear about their life before they met. We don’t see people being cruel or look at how the disabled are treated in South Korea. We just look at the two, the tall slender Young-Chan and the petite Soon-Ho negotiating their lives, cooperating to do something as simple as change a circular light bulb requires a blind husband consulting the too short, fragile wife as they converse using tactile typing. She types on his hands in a variation of braille, tapping with her finger tips onto his fingers.
They negotiate a snowy slope on inner tubes. He wishes to run and she is probably too fragile for that. We’ve seen blind people run, but not here. We do meet their other friends, blind, but perhaps not deaf.
It’s not clear how old this couple are. Perhaps, they are in their forties. One wonders about their families. In this documentary, they exist outside of the family support system it seems. Yet they have a support system that allows Young-Chan to take courses. He needs an interpreter to help him take tests and take notes. They have friends, some of whom express a poignant jealousy: They are alone and haven’t found the possibility of love.
This is a slow-moving, tender meditation on the human condition. Young-Chan comments:
When you are lonely say that you are
do not run away from it
or turn around and jump into it
Just say you are lonely
A star only shines in the darkness
Dawn only comes after night
Their life isn’t without humor. Young-Chan loves trees. He’s a tree-hugger in the literal sense and he compares his love of trees to human love, telling Soon-Ho that he’s in love with the tree and they are “dating” so she shouldn’t bother them. They are consulted on how to make a deaf and blind character more believable by a theater group and they even attempt to make their own plays with Young-Chan’s friends and old schoolmates.
Not everyone finds love in this life and sometimes if it comes too easy we take if for granted. Nothing is easy for this couple, not even changing a light bulb. Yet that doesn’t keep them from flying a kite. Young-Chan says that to be blind and deaf, one must have “the heart of an astronaut” and by that one imagines he means venturing off into an unseen, unknown void with courage and, with his Soon-Ho, with great fanfare.