A popular movie called “Minari” received six Academy Award nominations and has been described as embodying “what it mean to be a family.” But, IMHO, reviewers have missed the deeper point. And this point (again in my opinion) it may have relevance to present-day West Virginia.
The story involves a Korean family migrating to the Ozark Mountains to begin a new life — farming. The main helpful area denizen they meet is a primitive Christian. A cantankerous and iconoclastic grandmother, the married couple, and two young children, one of whom has a hole in his heart, are the family members. The Korean head of the family is scientifically rational and hardworking, but weather and an accidental fire seem to doom their agricultural enterprise.
While the movie concludes with no clear indication of whether the family farm will prosper, there are odd signs of hope, including the healing of the fragile heart and resilience of a small, almost accidental, minari crop. (Minari is a Korean herbal bush that is both medicinal and edible.)
This story is, IMO, an Everyman religious allegory. The farmer’s faith in rationality and hard work did not pay off, but the grandmother’s planting of minari and the spiritual vibes of a new place, inhabited by (among others) the back-to-basics primitive Christian, helped heal both the boy and his family.
Well, West Virginia and the Ozarks milieu are not so different, so can we discern any lessons in this allegory that apply especially well here? I believe so. The destructive industry in the Ozarks was chicken processing, in which all male chicks are burned; here in West Virginia, of course it’s fossil fuels, which poison air and water. Neither mining nor chicken sexing leads to a good life.
Both West Virginia and Arkansas have their share of hillbillies and, of course, in both places these rural folks are often treated with contempt. But it may be that some rural natives are in touch with the land at a deep level which, if it could be shared, might result in healing.
A low-population, low-education, woodsy state cannot expect to prosper economically, but a gig economy of trail builders, fishing guides, B&Bs, artist colonies and bike shops might sustain a dispersed populace of folks who are physically and spiritually healthy — even if somewhat impoverished.
New views of who we are and what this state is might come from unexpected sources and, at first, be rejected as bizarre or even laughable. One example in the movie involves the primitive Christian (a sort of John the Baptist figure), who performs a spontaneous and informal exorcism in the family home where the previous tenant had committed suicide. Another example: water witching — at first rejected, later accepted. Might not some of these primitive rituals contain an almost-lost scintilla of primal gnosis?
Half a century ago some hippies came here and, in various corners, a few still survive. Perhaps a new, silent “lost generation” influx is coming. Perhaps some are already here. Perhaps some us who have “holes in our hearts” are, even now, being healed.
John Palmer is a Huntington resident.