The South Korean mystery drama Glass Garden (2017), directed by Shin Su-won, follows Jae-yeon, a promising researcher with a disabled leg and the ability to communicate with nature. After Jae-yeon’s professor and colleague turn their backs on her and her research, she decides to retreat into a glass garden in the middle of the forest to work on her research alone. Meanwhile, Ji-hoon, Jae-yeon’s neighbor and a novelist, starts to live in Jae-yeon’s old apartment after she leaves. He becomes fascinated with Jae-yeon, and after stalking her in the forest he begins writing “The Glass Garden,” a novel based around her life. Jae-yeon starts to open up to Ji-hoon, and eventually Ji-hoon finds out who the man in the wheel chair is and what Jae-yeon is really doing.
I personally enjoyed this film very much. I initially had a different expectation of what the narrative would be, however, I was pleasantly surprised with the overall production of Glass Garden. With immense drama, and perfectly accumulated build up, this film does a great job building the viewers expectation and completely shattering it at the end of the film. Yet, even then the audience is still left in confusion of what actually happened. The audience at first, is lead to believe that Jae-yeons’s research is what Ji-hoon is after to save his blood deficient medical problem. As Ji-hoon stalks Jae-yeon, we [as the audience] wait for him to ask or try to inject the green blood into himself, however that never happens. Ji-hoon stalks Jae-yeon in pure fascination of her, he steals her diary and starts writing a story based on her. However, when Ji-hoon finds out that the man in the wheelchair is Jae-yeon’s professor, and she has been injecting the artificial green blood into his already dead body, we are startled not only at the revelation of the professor, but also of what Ji-hoon writes in his final article of “The Glass Garden” following this discovery. Ending his fantastical love story by questioning if Jae-yeon was just a scientist that went mad. This has the audience questioning this thought also. We are torn between the hope of Jae-yeon’s research being successful, but we start to recognize the traits that could consider Jae-yeon as mad. She is trying to keep her dead professor “alive” by injecting green artificial blood so he can turn into a tree. At this moment, the audience distances themselves from the depressing life of Jae-yeon and our hope of her success, and we start to realize the flaws in Jae-yeon. Moreover, the end of the film is very ambiguous, we recognize it as a fantasy, but don’t know specifically who’s fantasy it is, although, we can mostly assume it is Ji-hoon’s fantasy. Ji-hoon finds Jae-yeon in the forest and tells her that he will change the ending of his novel, however she refuses and walks into the forest to live out her days, and we notice that she doesn’t have a disabled leg anymore, just like Ji-hoon’s other fantasies. However, this can also be interpreted as Jae-yeon’s fantasy of how Ji-hoon would have ended his novel.
Looking at Glass Garden from a psychoanalytic perspective, it is apparent that this film is uncanny. Sigmund Freud states that the uncanny occurs when every day, seemingly normal objects are made unfamiliar. Further stating that the uncanny is, “similar to dreams, provoking mental anxiety in the spectator, as well as a feeling or sensation that is frightening, strange, shocking, confusing, and disturbing…the viewer becomes disoriented and, as may happen in dreams, signs and signifiers become confused. This creates uncertainty. When the spectators’ expectations are confounded, their ability to logically predict or interpret the narrative is affected. They then need to unravel the scenes for themselves. (137-138)” This is apparent in Glass Garden, signs and signifiers are easily confused and the audience becomes lost in what is real and the intentions behind the characters’ actions. We are left to interpreted and distinguish each scene for ourselves, and the ambiguous ending doesn’t help the audience to create more definite conclusions in our analysis. The audience is confused with the real intentions of Ji-hoon, initially thinking he wanted the artificially blood. In addition, the audience is further confused with the research of Jae-yeon, initially thinking that her artificial blood works when we see the bird come back to life, however, we question if that is just an illusion and if Ji-hoon’s comment that Jae-yeon and her professor have an infection instead of thinking that they are becoming trees is true, it is all up to interpretation and analysis by each individual viewer.
I personally am still unsure of the ending of this film, and identifying what is real and what was merrily a fantasy. I believe that Jae-yeon’s research is accurate, and she did preserve the body of her professor, because he didn’t seem to decompose as quickly as he should have, and her research is supported from her experiments on the fish from the beginning of the film. However, we do see the professors skin change, which is up to interpretation, it could be his body decomposing or Jae-yeon’s research starting to work, and he is truly turning into a tree. I personally believe that Ji-hoon is right in his initial reaction to the discovery of the professor, I think that Jae-yeon went slightly mad. I believe this mainly because after she injects the blood of her professor into her we see that her skin starts to change as well, in which I think is an infection like Ji-hoon states. Furthermore, looking at the last scene when Ji-hoon finds Jae-yeon in the forest, I think this is Ji-hoon’s fantasy of him trying to make things right with Jae-yeon. I think when the police were looking for Jae-yeon in the woods they caught her and imprisoned her, or put her in a mental institution. Ji-hoon states to the police in an investigation that he has only spoken to Jae-yeon a few times and that she told him that she liked his story’s, which is all lies. The police conclude that Jae-yeon admired Ji-hoon’s “The Glass Garden” and created a copycat crime. I believe that the ending was Ji-hoon’s way to make everything right. He visits the glass garden and sees the dead bird revive and fly away, and walks out to find Jae-yeon in the wood, and tells her that he’ll change the ending of his novel, she declines and walks into the woods becoming a tree, which we see formed in the main tree with green sap, an outline of what looks like Jae-yeon forming out of the branches. I believe that this was the change Ji-hoon made to the ending of his story. Creating not only closure, but an ending that could be either true to Jae-yeons research or the evolution of Jae-yeons mental break.
Doughty, Ruth, and Christine Etherington-Wright. “Psychoanalysis.” Understanding Film Theory, Macmillan Education, 2018, pp. 132-150.