Burning Ending Explained & Plot Analysis

The poor, the rich and Schrödinger’s cat: analysis of the film Burning (2018): the entire plot of the film, description, meaning of the ending.

Country: South Korea

Genre: detective, thriller, drama

Year of production: 2018

Director: Lee Chang-dong

Actors: Yoo Ah-in, Jung Jon-seo, Steven Yang

Slogan: “Everyone has their own secret”

Awards and nominations: In 2018, the film was presented in Cannes and received the FIPRESCI prize.

According to many viewers, the plot of the film Burning (Korean: 버닝; RR: Beoning) is only vaguely reminiscent of the original source – the book by Haruko Murakami. Therefore, it should be perceived as a separate work.

Lee Chang-dong directed a meditative thriller-trick, telling about the tragic gap between rich and poor, city and countryside, art and commerce, sincerity of feelings and cold calculation.

What is the movie about

Brief description of the contents of the picture. It all starts with a chance meeting of two old acquaintances – the young man Lee Jong-soo and the girl Hae-mi. The young man is an aspiring writer, but things are not going very well for him and he has to earn extra money. The girl playfully invites Jong Soo to sit somewhere and he agrees. In the cafe, Hae Mi says that she is going to go to Africa and asks the guy to look after her cat Boyle while she is away.

He agrees and a little later comes to the girl’s home. The cat is nowhere to be found and it seems to the young man that he does not exist at all. The girl smiles mysteriously, but keeps the answer to herself. The guys start flirting and then end up in the same bed.

After the girl leaves, Jong Soo regularly comes to her house and feeds the cat. The young man still doesn’t see the animal anywhere, but one day he finds cat feces in the tray. He is sincerely happy – after all, this means that the cat exists, which means that all his actions have meaning.

Jong Soo himself lives on a farm and looks after the farm of his father, who is accused of attacking a man. Having met a young man one day, the lawyer asks him to talk to his father. “Tell him to curb his pride and apologize to the man,” he says. However, the young man is not sure that he can do this – he and his father do not have the easiest relationship…

Soon Hae Mi returns. She is not alone – a young man named Ben came with her. Jong Soo realizes that they are in a relationship, but is in no hurry to move away. Little by little, the trio develops a strange friendship and often spends time together. One day it turns out that Ben is rich, and a little later he admits that he has a very strange hobby – every two months he burns down an abandoned greenhouse. The next burning, according to Ben, will happen soon – and quite possibly, it will happen in the same area where the main character lives.

Jong Soo begins to observe the surroundings – he sensed some ominous meaning in Ben’s words and now he wants to find the greenhouses that were burned earlier. However, he fails to do this. Meanwhile, Hae Mi disappears from his sight – she does not come to meetings and does not answer his calls.

Jong Soo switches to looking for the girl, but he can’t find her either. Her apartment seems unnaturally clean, and there is no sign of a cat in the house. The only thing he learns is that she is mired in loans. The young man then tracks down Ben and asks him about the greenhouse. He replies that he recently performed his strange ritual, as he wanted, and did it two steps from Jong-soo’s house. When the main character asks about Hae Mi, Ben just shrugs: he has no idea where she is.

One day, Ben invites Jong Soo to his home. There, the main character sees a well-groomed cat – according to Ben, he picked him up on the street. And in the bathroom, the main character finds a watch very similar to the one he once gave to Hae Mi. Strange things are multiplying: a cat suddenly running out of the apartment answers to the name Boyle. After analyzing the situation and thinking about it, the young man realizes that Ben is most likely behind Hae Mi’s disappearance…

Burning Ending explained

Explanation of the ending of the picture. At the end, a rather strange idea comes to Jong-soo’s head. He asks Ben to meet him in a vacant lot and hints that he has found a girl. Arriving, Ben doesn’t see any Hae Mi and asks Jong Soo where she is. The main character suddenly pounces on him and stabs him in the stomach. He then places Ben’s body in the car, douses the car with gasoline, strips naked, throws his blood-soaked clothes into the car and sets it on fire. After that, he gets into his car and drives away.

It is difficult to say unequivocally what the meaning of the ending of the film “Burning” is: the film does not give any direct answers and this gives rise to a huge number of different interpretations.

The first option is the most obvious: Ben is a maniac. He killed Hae Mi (by greenhouses he most likely meant women. This assumption is supported by the fact that Jong Soo never found a single burned greenhouse, and the girl soon disappeared) and was punished for this.

Why didn’t the main character go to the police, but kill Ben? The fact is that he only had indirect evidence of his opponent’s guilt – the name of the cat and the girl’s watch. So he decided to take matters into his own hands – in other words, he gave vent to his anger and jealousy and took revenge.

According to another interpretation, all (or almost all) of the events of the picture took place only in the head of Jong Soo, who was, after all, a writer. It can also be assumed that real events took place right up to the girl’s disappearance, and then the fiction began. It goes like this: Not knowing how to explain this event, Jong Soo began writing a book in which he demonized Ben. He also killed him on the pages of the book – this was exactly his revenge on his rival. What really happened to Hae Mi is unknown. One day she said that she wanted to disappear. Probably her dream came true, but how – one can only guess.

“Burning” is an existential, parable film. The storyline here is more figurative than concrete. And the most interesting thing is that it cannot be called an open-ended film – rather, it is a multi-layered picture with an open plot.

The meaning of the film Burning

The film is based on a book by Murakami (more precisely, on the story “Burn the Barn”), written in 1982. Lee Chang-dong’s film is a free adaptation of it. If Murakami’s story is more of a parable with a hidden meaning, then the film is a metaphorical psychological thriller.

The eminent writer built his story in Hemingway’s manner and left the reader a wide space of speculation. The theme of the barn acted as an allegory for him of how an event, devoid of clear details and visible motivation, provokes the human (in particular, the writer’s) brain to produce strange conjectures.

The director of “Burning” managed to preserve the understatement of Murakami’s prose. But at the same time, he consciously transferred the story to modern Korea and imbued it with acute social meanings. At the same time, the theme of the complex mechanism of perception was also at the center of his film, and at the forefront was the question: are people in principle capable of understanding each other?

The film’s running time is almost 2.5 hours. At the same time, Lee Chang-dong does not seek to entertain the viewer or scare him. The action in “Burning” develops slowly, even somewhat lazily. However, the director’s somewhat dry and detached method surprisingly maintains its pace. As for the characters, they are not particularly likable. Jong Soo looks like a real sleepwalker, Hae Mi seems like a dummy who wants to live beautifully without making any effort, and Ben looks like a typical representative of the “golden youth”. But at the same time, the film is paradoxically attractive: the rather unpleasant characters are interesting to watch, and the plot itself makes you think.

Lee Chang-dong follows Murakami’s ideas about the semantic ambivalence of what is happening. In particular, it allows us to consider everything that happens from several points of view. On the one hand there is Ben with his, to put it mildly, strange hobby, on the other – Hae Mi with her Schrödinger cat, on the third – the sleepy Jong Soo himself. The viewer constantly hesitates between “What happened to the girl?” and “Did it even happen?” and this is the special charm of the picture.

But what, after all, is the essence of the film? This film is only partly a thriller. To a greater extent, this is a drama that talks about the socio-political impasse of society, and at the same time – about the amazing nature of creativity and the subjectivity of reality. However, it is no coincidence that in one of his interviews the director said that his work symbolizes the tragedy of people who are forced to somehow exist in the modern world.

It can be assumed that in the images of two young men and a girl, he tried to cover problems that are relevant at all times. It’s about the gap between people who are born with a golden spoon in their mouth and those who are forced to do hard work. And we are also talking about ringing injustice, the feeling of which sooner or later leads to Salierian envy – and, accordingly, to tragedy.

Unfortunately (and this is the saddest thing), the author does not see an optimistic way out of this situation. The ending, if not tragic, is bleak: a tormented, devastated and endlessly lonely soul goes nowhere. Contemplating the last frames makes you at least uncomfortable, and at most creepy.

Similar films

Here are several films similar in meaning to the film Burning:

  • Parasite (South Korea, 2019). The Kim family are poor. One day fate brings them together with the rich Pak family…
  • Shoplifters (Japan, 2018). The plot centers on a worker’s family. One day he kidnaps a little girl…
  • Blow-Up (Great Britain, Italy, USA, 1966). One day a cute couple appears in the lens of a young photographer. It soon becomes clear that things are not so simple with young people.
  • Under Silver Lake (USA, 2019). The main character meets an attractive girl. The next day she disappears.
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