Before you go any further, this piece contains spoilers for Minari. If you haven't seen it and don't want the movie spoiled don't read ahead. If you have or don't care for spoilers then by all means proceed.
There’s so many beautiful things about Minari, but the relationship between the grandson and grandma is one that made me cry so much. I found myself feeling like both at different times. I identified with David’s confusion and anger towards his grandma when she’s not acting like what his idea of a grandma is. She doesn’t cook, she doesn’t bake, she wears men’s underwear and she smells weird. I identified with the grandma trying her best to help her family, being the only person she knows how to be and not fully being accepted. I know what it’s like to be David telling his grandma “this is your fault” as she’s recovering from a stroke, wrestling with the fact that the sickness is only complicating things.
My mom had a stroke shortly after I was born and her health has always been an issue in my family’s lives. There are times when I’ve felt like there were so many limits on what my mom could or couldn’t do, where I found myself thinking “Why can’t you be a normal mom?”. My older sister was born with an intellectual disability and when she entered her teenage years she would deal with so many challenges that at times we couldn’t go out or my mom had to stay behind with her. I found myself thinking “Why can’t you be a normal sister?” over and over growing up.
In Minari after Soonja, the grandma gets a stroke. In her recovery, she tries hard to help around the house. As I watched her dropping things over and over, I found myself thinking “please stop, please stop” and realized it’s the same thought and feeling I’ve had when I would see my mom trying to do something before she was fully physically ok. I recognize that just like my mom, Soonja is just trying to show that she can still help. That’s she’s still adding something, and not just subtracting nice moments from the family. I could see that in her, which is why when the family is gone and having their own crisis away from the home, as Soonja is burning garbage due to her physical state, she can’t put the garbage in all the way and she accidentally sets fire to the barn. I was crushed. I know what it’s like to have something be destroyed because of the unwitting actions of someone who is trying their best but they’re not in a state to help. I was so devastated watching this moment because I’d seen it in my own life with two women who I love so much.
Soonja runs away, she doesn’t know what else to do, she’s ruined everything. She’s done awful and thinks they’ll hate her or at the very least she thinks they won’t want her around. My sister started struggling with what she refers to as “toques” (static shocks) in her mind when she was a teenager. She feels bad and can’t explain it or deal with it and she has outbursts of emotion. She cries really hard and sometimes physically reacts to people trying to calm her down. As she grew older and bigger, it was harder for my parents to control her when she was going through this. Being five years younger than her, whenever these events would happen, I would lock myself in another room or go outside. I was scared...even as I grew older and was in college. On one particularly bad occasion for her, it was just her, my mom and I at home and mom couldn’t control her. My sister was screaming and crying on the floor. I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. I tried to help, approached my sister and screamed “NO. CALM DOWN.” and my sister reacted by swinging her arm at me and scratching me on the forehead. I’ll never forget her face after that. Her eyes were so scared and so sad. She immediately broke down. “No chiquito” she kept repeating, as she cried and I felt blood trickle from my forehead. It broke my sister’s heart more than it scared or overwhelmed me. The fire she caused was scarier to her than it could ever be to me.
As his grandma runs away in fear and shame, David runs after her. The mean kid who wished she was “a normal grandma” can’t bear to see his Grandma go away. For as much as I “wish” my sister and mom were “normal”, I can’t bear to think of my life existing without them. It’s my relationships with them that have shaped my life in a bigger way than anything else has. It’s those fires that have been unintentionally caused by them that have made me realize what I really love and what really matters. If not for them, my greatest joys wouldn’t exist. I’ve never known anyone as resilient as my mother. I’ve never met anyone who loves the way my sister does. I continue to be devastated by the thought that I would ever wish for them to be anything else other than what they are, because I love them. I love them for who they are, for what they are, for what they’ve gone through, for how they love me. They are so much more than the fires they’ve caused, they are a part of me. The best part of me.