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Empathetic superhero film takes flight: ‘Jupiter’s Moon’ tells story of a refugee with supernatural powers

Aug 17,2018
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Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo, who directed “Jupiter’s Moon.”
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Above, the film’s main protagonists Aryan, a young Syrian refugee who gains the ability to levitate, and Stern, a disgraced doctor who takes advantage of Aryan’s ability to rake in money. [ATNINE FILM]
Boosted by Marvel’s ever growing influence and DC Comics’ vigorous efforts to cater to a wide swath of people, today’s audiences have fallen in love with superheroes that skillfully conquer villains and save thousands of innocent people while managing not to lose their sense of humor. The majority of superheroes on-screen are wealthy (Bruce Wayne) or from prestigious family backgrounds (Black Panther), proving that despite their privilege, they are willing to sacrifice everything to protect the community.

Bucking conventional superhero storytelling is Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo’s “Jupiter’s Moon,” which offers a refreshing approach by featuring a poor, struggling refugee with supernatural abilities.

This fantasy drama competed for the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Though the movie failed to take home an award at the prestigious film event, the story left a strong impression on viewers by offering a different perspective on the refugee crisis, an international issue that needs more thorough attention. Through the film, the director criticizes people’s fear of difference.

“You shouldn’t dehumanize yourself or society and you shouldn’t demonize the ones asking for help,” said the director in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“Jupiter’s Moon” starts off rather unusually - the main protagonist is shot to death. But instead of dying, he levitates and continues to breathe.

The story follows a young Syrian refugee named Aryan Dashni. With a group of other refugees, Aryan and his father attempt to cross the Hungarian border via boat. Just before arriving, the group is discovered by border guards. Chaos ensues, and Aryan is separated from his father. After Aryan sets foot in Hungary, a police officer shoots him several times. But afterwards, he gains the ability to float into the air.

To find his lost father, Aryan accepts a disgraced doctor’s offer to trick sick people into paying him loads of money by demonstrating his new talent, and letting them think he is an angel sent by God to cure the sick. Dr. Stern, who lost his job at the hospital after drunkenly making a mistake during a surgery and killing a patient, uses Aryan as a means to earn enough money to bribe the patient’s parents to drop the lawsuit against him. In return, Stern promises to find Aryan’s lost father.

But things do not go well for Aryan, as men who stole his identification documents while crossing the border commit a fatal attack on Budapest’s subway train, suddenly turning Aryan into a sought-after terrorist. But the story takes a turn as the greedy Stern changes his stance on the migrant boy, and starts to help protect him from external threats, including the police who are trying desperately to catch him.

Stern’s sudden change in attitude is part of the director’s desire for more faith and hope in our lives. “The message was that there is hope, we should not give up on the idea of changing ourselves and the world,” the filmmaker said.

Written by Kata Weber, who co-wrote Mundruczo’s 2014 movie “White God,” the director said he loved the script because there “wasn’t a didactic lesson, but [it was] more like a fairy tale of a flying boy. About an angel, or a superhero if you wish.”

He added, “For me, this film is about the power of love and Stern’s character is a symbol that tells us the world is capable of change.”

Though there are many different superpowers like the ability to cure people or becoming invisible, the director favored the idea of the protagonist going airborne because “I tried to make it impossible to comprehend for people. Making it more distant from everyday life gives the impression that it’s less of a lecture. The aim was for it to serve as a signal to remind us that we’re not alone.”

Throughout the film, the camera frequently looks upward, not just when Aryan levitates, but also in a car chase scene, which is shot at bumper height.

“‘We forgot to look upwards’ - as one of the characters says in the film. To me this sentence tells everything about the loss of faith. I don’t necessarily mean religious faith here, but without faith in general, there is no human thinking. It’s essential to living.”

The open ending to this heartwarming movie is also in line with the inherent message the filmmaker hoped to deliver - love.

“The revaluation in the end is love. No matter what strange or tragic turns the world takes, there has to be love and we have to be able to embrace it.”

Rated 15 and above, the movie is currently available nationwide.

BY JIN MIN-JI [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]