Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Now My Eyes Have Seen You": A Comparative Study of Secret Sunshine and the Book of Job

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

"Now My Eyes Have Seen You": A Comparative Study of Secret Sunshine and the Book of Job

Article excerpt

What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside? Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings?

--Job 38:19-20

All things are simply God to you, and you see only God in all things. Like one who looks long at the sun, he sees the sun in whatever he afterwards looks at. If this is lacking, this looking for and seeing God in each and every thing, then you lack this birth.

--Meister Eckhart

What does the song of a swallow mean? What is the muffled sound of a hammer trying to tell? And yet as I listened to those sounds, and I listened with something more than just my hearing, I was moved by their inexpressible eloquence and suggestiveness, by the sense I had that they were music rising up out of the mystery of not just my life, but of life itself. In much the same way, that is what I mean by saying that God speaks into or out of the thick of our days.

--Frederick Buechner


Though set in a world "so far removed from our own," David Clines writes of the book of Job, there goes on "beneath the surface a human drama that belongs to every age." (1) Indeed, as characteristic of Hebrew wisdom literature, the themes explored in the story of Job belong to the universal human experience, posing what some regard as "the most serious problem that has ever troubled the human mind." (2) Why do the innocent suffer? What is the nature of this God who allows or ordains such suffering? When are the explanations offered by traditional wisdom irrelevant or impotent? And how does one'struggle, with God and with self, through intense pain?

Well transcending the historical and cultural contexts of the biblical text, these are the exact questions that are also explored in the South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong's Secret Sunshine (2007), a "devastating study in human suffering" (3) that raises "heavy theological questions." (4) With a focus on issues of grief, recovery, and theodicy, this paper proposes a comparative study of the film in light of the book of Job. This is how the study will proceed: After a brief introduction to the film and a synopsis of its plot, we embark on a detailed exegesis of key aspects of the film that bear remarkable parallels with the Job story, allowing the latter to frame and illumine our understanding of the former and vice versa. Finding methodological justification in this mutual correlation, and drawing from resources in philosophical, mystical, and pastoral theological reflection, I will then offer three allegorical interpretations for the meaning of "secret sunshine" in the film. After considering the redemptive possibilities of the female protagonist Shin-Ae's existential suffering, we will move on to examine, Christologically, how the male protagonist Jong-Chan serves as an excellent exemplification of incarnational empathy. Finally, through a careful study of the film's closing sequences, we will explore how Secret Sunshine points to the transcendent beauty and comfort that can be found in the quotidian and commonplace.


Let us begin our study with a brief introduction to and synopsis of Secret Sunshine. Adapted from Lee Chung-Joon's 1985 novella Story of Worm, the following lines from the author's introduction afford valuable insights into the film's philosophical trajectory:

   A human being may be the ruler of the universe, and may be properly
   human, only when human dignity is respected. Yet, if the dignity of
   a person is trampled underfoot and denigrated to the state of a
   helpless and worthless being--like an insect--what is there that a
   human being can do and ask before an Absolute Being? (5)

As Lee Chang-Dong reveals, these themes--the abject dehumanization and helplessness of a human being before an impassive or even malevolent God--served as the inspirational "kernel of the story" that was to become Secret Sunshine. …

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