A State of Mind is a 2003 documentary film intended for adult audiences. It was written and produced by Daniel Gordon. The film which has won various awards across the world focuses on the day to day life of North Koreans as dictated by the prevailing political regime.
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The film brings to focus issues of totalitarianism, oppression, suppression and a subject’s admissibility to such subjective leadership. It gives the concept emphasis through a critical look at the ordinary lives of two little girls. It offers to the reader a political aspect of a country and its influence on other perspectives such as family and social life of subjects.
North Korea is a nation that adheres to communist ideals even in these contemporary times. Under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, this nation is in the process of gradual growth towards becoming a superpower. It is separated from the rest of the world and has very little links with China and Russia, her immediate neighbors. It is also completely separated from South Korea.
Daniel Gordon films the activities of a national event, the Pyongyang Mass Games. This is an annual event in North Korea whereby gymnasts, dancers, athletes and musician come together and stage a spectacular performance.
The major theme of this event revolves around the portrayal of the ideals of socialism and patriotism by the citizens. It is dedicated in honor of Kim Jong Il’s father and former leader, Kim II Sung as well as to North Korea’s glorious revolution as indicated by Jeon; “Pyongyang’s … lack political ambitions and give blind support and unconditional loyalty to their leader” (Jeon 761).
The film discusses on the daily lifestyles of two young girls and that of the people around them, a livelihood quite unknown to the rest of the world especially those from the west. This movie can be termed as one revealing the political aspect of North Korea in an unusual way, sports.
It is not only an ambiguous story with regard to Korean culture, but also an ambivalent display of the country’s political regime. One notes that the movie is brought out in such a mild humanistic perspective with little or no exaggerations of religion, language, war or pleasures of the world such as smoking or sex.
The graceful dancers and performers display the beauty and pomp of the North Korean woman. This makes the movie attractive to a large audience whereby criticism based on the above becomes negligible.
Children who watch this movie can only be entertained by the graceful display of art and artistic movement but may not be in a position to understand the historical or political aspects of North Korea as they are the intentions of the Producer (French 35-36).
With prior knowledge of how closed a country North Korea is; one wonders how Daniel Gordon and his team got the permission to film this documentary movie. Perhaps it is because the film does not draw any conclusion or judgment. Just as in other movies touching on the Soviet socialist states, it is aimed at presenting a leader’s ideal of totalitarianism to his subjects.
However, the ambiguity of the film is seen in the way that the characters are brought out. The opinion of the state of affairs may vary from one viewer to the other. While some will be of the opinion that the girls are happy during these routines, others may interpret this as oppression and repression.
This is supported by Koh’s statement that the people of North Korea are expected to be committed and willing to work hard at all times “no matter how arduous and frustrating it may be” (Koh 146).
The two girls together with many others practice on a daily basis for this great event. One of the girls comes from a working class family. This is evidenced by the fact that her father operates heavy machinery. The other girl’s father is an intellectual specializing in physics.
The youngsters’ notion of zeal and commitment is seen in this practice session whereby their intentions are solely on pleasing the Great leader. Even though most part of the movie is silent, the creativity is spectacular with choreographers’ efforts being very conspicuous. Some of the groups do not make it to the final list (French 31-32).
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The movie takes another perspective where it interviews families of those involved in the practice. It is a revelation of the high esteem that they hold their leader with and the hatred they have for what they call the United States Imperialism.
For instance, flashbacks of the Korean War and the subsequent economist discussion reveal that the war was the resultant of communism. However, most of the Koreans blame it on imperialism of the west.
The leader upholds communist ideals and perspectives which are basically non-spiritual. However, a little alteration from these ideals is seen when he sets aside a holy mountain for annual prayers and visitation. (Koh 145-147).
Totalitarianism is seen in this event in many ways. As the performers entertain the crowd, they give all they are to please humanity. They are not supposed to show any aspect of individualism. It is the leader who is supposed to be celebrated as a leader, idol and an individual. Even though he does not show up for the event, his idiosyncrasies must be met; he must be celebrated in absentia.
However, the feelings of the Koreans towards this act of hero worship are not revealed. They adore their Great leader in extreme ways that almost everything is named after him. Looking at it from a western perspective, it would be a sort of brainwashing that results into ill-treatment and misleading of the citizens by their leader.
But there are thoughts that run through one’s mind; who would not sublime the individual and work to perfection for the sake of his own country? But are the Koreans celebrating the nation or the leader? But from the beginning, the “Koreans have been socialized to obey and defer to authority figures” thus it is a norm to them (Koh148).
Degradation and oppression of humanity is seen with regard to who gets to perform at the all-important event. The two girls in the story come from the higher class of society and are accorded respect.
Additionally, they are spared from suffering in the concentration camps. The lower class citizens are not that lucky; they are forced to live in concentration camps and are starved to death. They constitute the poor and the peasants (Kim 285).
What is portrayed in A State of Mind is a society whose lifestyle, social and political inclination is different from what westerners view as a liberal state. It is a portrayal of a country where the concept of the good of the whole supersedes the needs of the individual.
The organization and color in this documentary serves to display the commitment and efforts of the citizens to please their leader. When one observes how happy and excited the citizens are doing, it makes one wonder whether they do not see the odds of this socialist ideal.
This film is basically understood with regard to one’s political perspective. If watched by a liberal, then it serves to show that if one chooses to be happy and contented, s/he can be regardless of the political regime prevailing in their country. For the communists, it reveals the subordination of an individual just for the sake of the nation. It is a great documentary which can be enjoyed by both sports and political enthusiasts.
French, Paul. North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula–a Modern History. Zed Books, 2007. Print.
Jeon, Jei Guk. “North Korean Leadership: Kim Jong II’s Balancing Act in the Ruling Circle.” Third World Quarterly (2000): 761-779. Print.
Kim, Samuel. “Research on Korean Communism: Promise Versus Performance.” World Politics (1980): 281-310. Print.
Koh, Byung Chul. “Political leadership in North Korea: Toward a conceptual understanding of Kim II Sung’s leadership behavior.” Korean Studies (1978): 139-157. Print.