Monday, January 3, 2011

Sons of Fathers Find Happiness in Themselves.

While drinking Twinings English breakfast tea and listening to the Inception soundtrack, I naturally thought back on the movie and recalled a memory, a particular snippet of conversation, where my sister responded, "like in Inception" and I suddenly re-experienced the epiphany I had then. At the time I had been describing the relationship between Gu Ma Joon and his father in the K-drama "Baker King Kim Tak Gu" and it really was like that of Robert Fischer and his father in Inception. I hadn't made the connection before. (Sometimes I'm dense like that.)

I'll confess I just wasn't exactly paying close attention to the Fischers' relationship while I was watching the movie. I was more concerned with Cobb and his dead wife issues to be honest. It's just that I was absolutely sure inception was going to work. I knew Robert was going to end up dissolving his father's empire. He was going to experience catharsis and resolve his father issues. What I didn't know, and what I was more preoccupied with, was whether or not by accomplishing inception Cobb was really going to have his own happy ending.

On the other hand, I felt genuinely intrigued by the father-son relationship of Gu Ma Joon and his father Gu Il Joong in the K-drama series "Baker King Kim Tak Gu." The abstruse nature of the relationship between father and son is illustrated over 30, hour-long episodes played twice a week. Of course not all 30 hours are wholly devoted to the father-son dynamic of Ma Joon and Il Jong, but given the lengthy run of the series there was ample opportunity for the writers to explore the depth of the relationship and time for the audience to digest it. This is all of course in contrast to the fraction of the 2 hours the Fischers got in Inception. It's no surprise that I had more of an emotional stake in one father-son relationship than the other.

But on-screen-time aside, both Inception and "Baker King Kim Tak Gu" explore one specific brand of the dysfunctional father-son relationship in which the son, heir to the father's fortunes, struggles to follow in his footsteps and is subsequently starved for acceptance and affection. Catharsis in this case occurs when the son learns to redefine himself outside of his father's shadow.

In the K-drama "Baker King Kim Tak Gu," young Ma Joon as the heir to his father's baking company accompanies his father on trips to the bread factory although he had no interest in the bread that is his father passion and foundation upon which his company is built. Further conflicts arise when Kim Tak Gu, the bastard son of Gu Il Joong, comes to live as a part of the proper household. As Tak Gu gains favor with his father as Il Joong sees much of himself, specifically his love of bread, in young Tak Gu, Ma Joon becomes embittered.

Ma Joon then coincidentally finds out the secret that his biological father is not the man he calls "father." He is not the man that he wants to make proud. He is not the man from whom he desperately wants acceptance. He is not the man that calls him "son." He goes on living his life feeling inadequate in the face of his father, in the shadow of the "real son." Their relationship comes to a dramatic climax when Ma Joon distraughtly tells his father that he is sorry that a person like him was ever born.

Throughout the course of the story Ma Joon struggles to become the kind of man he believes his father wants as a son: the kind of man that is worthy of inheriting the baking company. He hones his skills as a baker and seeks approval from his father, but Il Joong still wants to seat Tak Gu as his heir. Tak Gu, of course, has no interest in the company. There is an obvious misunderstanding between Ma Joon and Il Joong involving the meaning of the company. For Ma Joon the company represents his father's affection, but for Il Joong the company is the embodiment of his passion for bread. Il Joong wants to will his company to the son that understands that passion meanwhile Ma Joon bewails his father's withheld affections.

Catharsis comes to Ma Joon and Fischer through the understanding that a father's love is not equitable to the inheritance of his fortunes. It's not made abundantly clear in either story as to whether or not the fathers genuinely wished that their sons find happiness in their own fashion, but it is a universal motif that does not escape comprehension.

Maybe it's the fact that it really is a universal motif that gets me in the gut. It's that something that resonates with me to the point where it hits me tangentially through music and tea. Fathers will expect things of their children and children will want to appease them, but love is not approval. So this whole convoluted analysis of dysfunction father-son relationships as coincidentally seen in two entertainment mediums aside, I wonder when I'll be confident enough to believe that fathers genuinely want their children to find happiness in their own way.

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