What if the words won’t come? This is a problem that Mija, the 66-year-old protagonist of Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry must wrestle with. The question ends up taking multiple meanings as the film progresses. Mija, long a widow, who lives in a small apartment with just a grandson, has enrolled, in a fit of inspiration, in a poetry class—she has the proper spontaneous nature to be an artist, but not, as it turns out, the chops. Unable to let the writing flow out naturally from her personal experience of the everyday world, she overthinks every attempt, distrusts every impulse. However, words also fail Mija in a more functional sense—right from the beginning, when she visits a doctor to have diagnosed a prickling sensation in her right arm that she suspects is arthritis or neuralgia, she admits to finding that she increasingly forgets the names for things. The doctor is clearly concerned more about her memory than her tingling appendage, and though there is no talk of it for a long while of screen time, the moment hangs over the film ominously. Eventually, a diagnosis comes, expectedly to us, if not Mija: that seemingly unstoppable, barely treatable worldwide plague known as Alzheimer’s. Read Michael Koresky’s review.
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