WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND!
“Death is the fundamental element holding life together.”
Seobok, South Korea’s latest film offering starring Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum, confronts the issue of mortality and the tension between life and death.
Gong Yoo plays a former government agent Ki-hun, who is now suffering from a terminal brain tumour and is only given a few months to live. He is persuaded to return to a secret assignment – taking care of Seobok (played by Park Bo Gum), the world’s first human clone whose cells have life-saving properties that could save humanity.
In return, Ki-hun gets to be put on a clinical trial in hopes of getting cured by Seobok.
The journey between the unusual pairing – a terminally ill patient and an immortal being – questions the human quest to escape death.
HOW MUCH DO YOU FEAR DEATH?
Ki-hun puts up a strong front and goes around pretending that he can cope all by himself. Yet on the inside, we see that he is a broken man full of regrets and fears.
While he spends his days throwing up, losing consciousness and doing nothing else, he is not ready to die yet.
“I’m not sure whether I really want to live or am I just afraid to die,” Ki-hun tells Seobok in a rare moment of vulnerability.
Seobok doesn’t understand Ki-hun’s persistence in trying to survive when the latter’s life hasn’t been great. He thinks Ki-hun is desperate to live, but Ki-hun is actually just dreading death.
Why are we so scared of death?
Some time ago, I received a medical report that said that I was likely to be suffering from a rare genetic condition, and treatment options were few and undesirable considering my young age. I was suddenly presented with an elevated risk of an early, sudden death.
Unknown to many, I slipped into an emotional slump after that. I was upset, lost and scared.
What if there was no tomorrow for me? What if I was just gone suddenly like that? Everyone I knew and everything I loved was here… I wasn’t ready to go!
At the core of humanity is a natural rejection towards death. After all, we were created to live. We were not created to die.
It is only natural that the concept of death scares us. It’s something that we haven’t done before, and something that we will only do once.
I was scared of my earthly body turning limp and cold. That this body would have to be put through the fiery furnace. I was afraid of the physical sting of death when in reality, I was just a pilgrim traversing through this temporal home.
There and then I was reminded of Jesus’ words:
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)
What is it about death that you’re afraid of? Is it the physical pain that comes with it? Or the uncertainty of what happens after you take your last breath?
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN LIVING?
In a sombre conversation, Seobok asks Ki-hun how it feels like to be dying. Ki-hun tells Seobok that the feeling sucks, simply because he is dying.
His reply confuses Seobok further, and Seobok asks another question, which leaves Ki-hun speechless for a while.
“Then did it feel good to live?”
Like Ki-hun, I found myself being unsure of the answer to that question.
We see in Ki-hun’s flashbacks that he was a pretty trashy character. He had no courage to stand up for the things he believed in, and he just watched as people around him suffer – out of fear that if he retaliated he would be implicated.
In the present, he tells Seobok that there were actually more bad times than good times in his life. He correctly points out that a lot of it was due to his own poor decisions and lack of convictions, and he breaks down in tears as he recalls his regrets in life.
If life has not been entirely great and yet we’re reluctant to let go, then could it be due to how we have been living?
To be very honest, very little of my life has been spent being preoccupied with preparing for the day I stand before God.
The Bible tells us that on the day of judgement, we will have to stand before God and give an account for our lives – down to every word we have ever spoken (Matthew 12:36).
As I thought about the poor decisions I’ve made, the unloving things I’ve said and the shameful things I’ve done, I realised that besides my fear of the physical sting of death, I was definitely not ready to meet God yet.
How have you been living your life? If you were presented with a showreel of your entire life, would you like what you see?
IF DEATH DIDN’T EXIST, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE?
“That very fear of knowing that life someday will end is what makes them pursue a meaning in life.”
As the government officials in Seobok debate on whether a clone like Seobok is truly beneficial to society, one of them stated that by disrupting the natural laws of life, humans will only find themselves facing insatiable desires for eternity.
Life often feels like the same old endless cycle: Work, eat, sleep, repeat. It’s sometimes hard to find meaning in the things that we do. What’s the point of trudging through life?
Yet the idea that we will not be on this earth for forever is like a countdown timer reminding us that we don’t have all the time in this world.
If there was no ending point, we would have no urgency in all that we do. If there were no consequences to the things we do in life, we would live with a frightening lack of fearlessness and awareness.
“Paradoxically, death is the fundamental element holding life together. In other words, if people become immortal, mankind will lead itself to extinction.”
What meaning would there be if we were just left to be crusading this earth endlessly? I cannot imagine that – everything would be meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Work, eat, sleep, repeat. Work, eat, sleep, repeat.
In the Bible, Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes about man’s futile pursuit of the things in life.
For a man who has had it all and tried “all things that are done under the sun”, Solomon came to a point of realising that all human efforts made without God in the picture are all meaningless (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
I came out of Seobok feeling slightly shaken – in a good way.
Even if death is a painful concept to grapple with, it reminds us that we are merely human. We are finite, and the time will come when everything here will end. What do you want to do in the meantime?
And how do we not fear what is frightening? We keep our eyes on Jesus, our Saviour who has triumphed over death.
In Christ, death is not the end. We can look forward with an anticipation that eternity awaits us, in the fullness of God’s presence (Psalm 16:11).
Death is no longer a morbid preoccupation, but a signpost reminding us that we are no longer entrapped to the bondages of this world.
So till then, I live in that assurance. That nothing on this world – not a medical diagnosis, a freak accident, a hereditary disease, or a pandemic – will be able to wrench me out of His presence forevermore.
- Do you fear death? What is it about death that’s most frightening?
- If you were presented with a showreel of your entire life on the day you come face to face with God, would you like what you see?
- Does the knowledge of death motivate you to live life purposefully?