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HomeCulture NewsA Hope Past Utopia: Rescue, Restoration, and the Flight from North Korea

A Hope Past Utopia: Rescue, Restoration, and the Flight from North Korea

Past Utopia debuted on the Sundance Movie Pageant and is at present in search of distribution.

There are movies which are shifting and profound; there are movies which are pressing. After which there’s Madeleine Gavin’s Past Utopia.

The movie takes its title from a quote by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector and the creator of The Woman with Seven Names. Gavin’s documentary follows North Koreans who, like Lee, make the treacherous try to flee the nation. It additionally highlights the care and sacrifice of these attempting to assist them escape. Particularly, the film facilities on South Korean pastor Seungeun Kim’s efforts to soundly coordinate the defection of a household. The household—a husband, spouse, two younger daughters, and an aged grandmother—is confronted with a frightening journey that’s their solely hope of security. To achieve South Korea, they must cross China, Vietnam, and Laos earlier than flying to Seoul from Thailand. Alongside the best way, Seungeun Kim coordinates with smugglers in China and the household’s kin in South Korea to organize a manner for them.

Past Utopia could be essential no matter the way it was filmed, however it’s astounding for utilizing completely no recreations. Reportedly, the entire footage comes from hidden cameras smuggled into North Korea; from smugglers (known as brokers) and the escapees themselves throughout their lengthy trek by way of China; or from members of the movie crew that be part of the household in Vietnam and Laos. Added to that is archival movie, footage obtained from numerous information sources such because the Related Press, and the documentary crew’s filming in Seoul.

What this implies is that the viewers is given an unprecedented firsthand image of life beneath the North Korean authorities. It means the feelings are precise and spontaneous in a manner that even few documentaries can obtain. The purpose right here is to not reward the documentary however to be in awe of the lives of the boys, ladies, and kids who threat the whole lot they will think about to hunt a sanctuary exterior of their nation. That awe goes equally for the South Koreans aiding the defectors, thus making themselves targets.

The sense of actuality that North Korea gave to its residents left no area for hope exterior of its borders.

Practically the entire unprecedented entry is due to the work of Pastor Seungeun Kim and his company, Caleb Mission. They haven’t solely smuggled hidden cameras into North Korea, but in addition positioned them alongside the border of China throughout the Yalu River. Pastor Kim exhorts the defectors to document as a lot footage as they will as they cross mountains and rivers of their escape. It’s this footage we bear witness to, and it’s overwhelming for the travesty of life beneath a totalitarian regime.

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt sought to grasp the cultural forces that enabled the rise of totalitarianism and the brutal strategies that stored totalitarianism in energy. Writing within the latter half of the 20 th century, Arendt was targeted on Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia—regimes that may really feel far faraway from us within the 2020s. However totalitarianism, beneath the affect of Soviet Russia, has taken maintain of North Korea for many years. Its harmful type of management continues to be an evil at work on the earth in the present day. Regardless of understanding this, it’s distressing to see a lot of what Arendt articulated within the smuggled footage that Past Utopia collects.

This totalitarian energy attracts its power from an infinite marketing campaign to instill devotion within the hearts and minds of North Koreans. Loyalty to the regime is inculcated from a younger age by way of faculty classes and mass video games. Younger youngsters are taught songs about decimating “American-bastards” and compelled to observe for innumerable hours in preparation for the video games. It’s an embodied indoctrination alongside a whole isolation from any encounter with the skin world. Defectors inform tales of police brokers putting bugs in youngsters’s toys; even watching a South Korean film is denounced as a criminal offense. 

Arendt famous the aim of those insulating practices in Germany and Russia, writing that “such a group prevents its members’ ever being instantly confronted with the skin world, whose hostility stays for them a mere ideological assumption.” These strategies entice North Koreans in an “insane actuality.” The persons are minimize off from communication, connection, and any thought of what the remainder of the world really consists of. They aren’t geared up with any instruments that might permit them to even start questioning the lies they’ve been taught. The federal government thus stifles the accessible social imaginary of its residents and ensures loyalty, even love. 

In flip, that love takes priority over human relationships and the actual fact of actuality itself. To American ears, it’s stunning to listen to that the household on the heart of Past Utopia didn’t wish to go away North Korea. They solely determined to flee when the federal government launched an edict that any recognized household or affiliate of earlier defectors could be exiled. Their lives had been already lived in a substatus of social suspicion, however they knew that exile would solely imply loss of life. As neighbor turns in suspicion in opposition to neighbor, the common human bonds of friendship and compassion are shattered—in the event that they had been ever allowed to kind to start with. 

Arendt writes that “provocation, as soon as solely the specialty of the key agent, turns into a technique of coping with his neighbor which all people, willingly or unwillingly, is pressured to comply with.” In a world the place final love is reserved for the totalitarian motion, anybody could be motivated to accuse these closest to them. Going even additional, she says, “what totalitarian rule must information the habits of its topics is a preparation to suit every of them equally nicely for the position of executioner and the position of sufferer.” The North Korean authorities enforces devotion even within the face of terror, making a devotion that supersedes human compassion.

Past Utopia refuses to cover from that terror. We see classroom classes of younger youngsters being shaped by falsehoods. We see hatred of outsiders cultivated. We see the splendor of the mass video games, however we additionally see the excruciating situations beneath which youngsters had been pressured to observe. We see the stark situations of a rustic in a decades-long despair. We see folks collapse on the street from starvation. We don’t merely hearken to a report about North Korean executions, we hear a firsthand account of 1. After which we witness one. It’s unbearably heavy. It’s unbearably actual.

“I by no means knew who’s God, what’s God… however one way or the other I prayed, ‘Please, assist me.’”

That the fear does little to mitigate the residents’ loyalty is a darkish testomony to the power of totalitarianism. The one pressure seemingly robust sufficient to interrupt the maintain of devotion is a real confrontation with actuality. Even after the household flees, their hearts are with their homeland. A part of that is comprehensible: There may be actual sorrow to leaving the whole lot you recognize, even when you recognize it’s value risking the whole lot to flee. Nevertheless it goes past that. The sense of actuality that North Korea gave to its residents left no area for hope exterior of its borders.

When interviewed by the movie crew about Kim Jong-un, the grandmother confesses that she loves his management and desires to see him succeed. However the grip of North Korea’s ideology begins to crack, slowly at first. The grandmother confesses that she believed any American would solely wish to do her hurt, however her expertise with the documentary’s crew casts doubts on that assumption. “As I take a look at you… that makes me suppose that maybe my authorities has lied to me.”

Arendt acknowledged that the last word technique of totalitarian regimes was to isolate people, to stifle their individuality and talent to work together with each other. “To destroy individuality is to destroy spontaneity, man’s energy to start one thing new out of his personal assets.” It’s solely when that sense of personhood—the dignity we’re every given as image-bearers of God—is restored that the grip of such ideologies is damaged.

Past Utopia is important for extra than simply the revelation of actuality in North Korea. Gavin’s documentary places that profound dignity in focus by way of the household’s journey and the work of Pastor Kim. Kim’s service is actually constructed on love—a lot of his information about smuggling folks throughout Asia was realized whereas discovering a technique to get his spouse safely out of North Korea. He and his spouse took that information and used it to assist many others escape throughout a long time. And if it started in love, it continues to persist in love. Their ministry tends to each the souls and our bodies of North Koreans. They work to deliver rescue, restoration, and hope to the oppressed.

It’s a hope that the powers of North Korea may by no means attain, regardless of how grand their delusions. The North Korean authorities criminalizes the mere possession of a Bible, however additionally they “plagiarize” it. The regime frames its historical past by casting Kim Jong-il as a deity, making Kim Jong-un the son of god. The residents are even taught to comply with ten ideas arrange by the regime, held aloft as their very own Decalogue. All of that is an try to sanctify and concretize the regime’s ideology. Nevertheless it additionally reveals the vacancy of it and factors, as a substitute, to the supply of precise hope. 

Hyeonseo Lee describes a second of religion throughout her preliminary escape throughout the North Korean border. “I by no means knew who’s God, what’s God… however one way or the other I prayed, ‘Please, assist me.’” There’s a supply of rescue and restoration better than the would possibly of totalitarianism. Not like the tyrants who rule over North Korea, the true God is one who hates oppression. In Psalm 82, Asaph offers an image of God toppling the false gods of the nations:

God has taken his place within the divine council;
within the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
“How lengthy will you choose unjustly
and present partiality to the depraved? Selah
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
preserve the fitting of the and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
ship them from the hand of the depraved.”
They’ve neither information nor understanding,
they stroll about in darkness;
all of the foundations of the earth are shaken.
I mentioned, “You might be gods,
sons of the Most Excessive, all of you;
however, like males you shall die,
and fall like several prince.”
Come up, O God, choose the earth;
for you shall inherit all of the nations!

Lots of of years after Asaph’s tune, Christ started his ministry by proclaiming excellent news to the poor and declaring liberty to the captives and the oppressed (Luke 4:16-21). Christ is the success of that declaration, heralding the arrival of the dominion of God. And within the promise of his return, we’ve a real hope that tyranny and oppression will someday stop. It’s a hope that even the worst evil of this world can’t snuff out.



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