From our first breath to our last, we experience everything from first heartbreak to first love. Each experience leaves behind a memory that we carry for the rest of our life. Korean writer and director Erick Oh animates this very story through the evolution of a young thriving artist in the short film “Namoo.”
In an interview with Sundance, Oh encouraged the audience to ask themselves “the meaning of life” while viewing “Namoo.” He describes the tree of life as a “tree of memories” following a man’s entire life from birth to the end.
The 12-minute virtual reality (VR) project begins with the tree as a tiny redbud in front of an adorable baby. Slowly but surely, the tree starts growing as the baby ages, producing branches to carry all the child’s keepsakes. The tree not only represents the cycle of life, but could also represent the human subconscious –– the emotional, psychological baggage we unknowingly carry with us. For example, when the artist grows frustrated with his work and life, a lightning bolt slices through the tree. The artist bandages the tree, but it will never be the same again; his spirit, like the tree, is scarred for life.
This short film, inspired by the loss of Oh’s grandfather, is meticulously handcrafted –– each detail characterizing an aspect of life to which we can relate. The handprint that remained on the tree into adulthood reminds us of the childhood innocence we all possess at our core. The relief the artist experiences when the tree lessens its burden teaches us the importance of freeing ourselves from former hardships.
Oh concludes the story full circle: the tree resembles its original bright red bulb. The artist, now an elderly man, hugs the tree as the tree lifts off from the ground and floats into the sky. He peacefully ceased to exist –– an inevitable ending to the tree of life. In a YouTube interview, Oh explains that he used the tree as the center of attention to explicitly show the passage of time and how we are stuck in the natural cycle of life. The tree emulated the protagonist’s emotions; it quivered when the protagonist was sad or angry and collapsed to the side when the protagonist was overwhelmed.
A poignant story, “Namoo” highlights the details in our life we normally overlook. It makes the audience question their way of life and their purpose. “Namoo” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival 2021.