Hey-jun Lee’s 2009 Korean film, Castaway on the Moon, tells the story of an average man whose failed suicide jump off a bridge lands him on a stranded island in the middle of the Han River – within eyesight of downtown Seoul and yet completely invisible to the rest of the world. That is, everyone but Kim Jung-yeon, a young woman who suffers from acute anthropophobia, a fear of people or the company of others. This phobia is so afflicting that she has cocooned herself inside her room for the past 2-3 years, leaving only to use the restroom or shower when her parents are asleep or gone. She texts whenever she needs anything – most of her food comes from cans, her bed is made from bubble wrap, her “fresh air” from a fan, and her social life from a computer. However, when she spots Kim Seong-geun on the island through her camera, she begins to observe him and roughly communicate, finally gaining the courage to leave her room and live again.
This film is not only disarmingly hilarious and unapologetic, it is also extremely sincere and moving. The utter honesty of the film seems to be what has the most impact on the viewers, as it is also focused on an audience of average men and women who can strongly identify with the main characters. Not only this, the film also does a fantastic job at showing cultural differences to American audiences, bringing a sort of universality to the concept of what it means to live. Kim Seong-geun is the epitome of the average Korean man: he never exceled at any one particular subject, attended an OK university, and is hanging on to a job that he doesn’t really like and that doesn’t really like him. When it all becomes too much to handle, he decides to end his life, and instead loses everything but. (Ironically enough, he cannot even succeed in his own death)
As time progresses throughout the film, Kim adapts to his surroundings and is forced to live simply, without social constructions and ready-made food. He begins to grow used to his settings, even preferring them (as is evident from his tendency to hide when ships pass by). The beauty in the simplicity and wholesomeness of Kim’s life grows onto the audience, giving us a feeling of purification from the toxins of society’s expectations. It also poses a powerful question of ‘what is life worth living for?’ Everyday Kim contemplates hanging himself with the necktie he has made into a noose. However, with each day that Kim spends living for himself and through himself, he increasingly values what he has. This parallels with Kim Jung-yeon’s progression into coming out of her shell and having the courage to face the everyday battle with life. By using each other to move forward one day at a time, the two main characters are finally able to find salvation, proving to the audience that after hitting rock bottom, there is no place to go but up.
The painful and somewhat endearing growth of both characters in this film gives the audience hope that, despite somewhat absurd circumstances, being average is truly not the end of the world. If anything, it teaches us all to laugh a little, accept ourselves unconditionally, and to find life in the little things.