REVIEW: In the Absence [2019]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 29 minutes
    Release Date: 2019 (South Korea)
    Studio: Field of Vision
    Director(s): Seung-jun Yi

I should have told her to escape quickly.

This is what happens when your government leaders are inept, indifferent, and opportunistic. This is what happens when people are given jobs well above their abilities and thus become expected to make decisions rather than follow them. Not only was everyone holding a seat of power in the South Korean Coast Guard unwilling to act as they reported situations to bosses in the hopes of passing the buck, those paid to be heroes when called upon weren’t experienced enough to fulfill that duty or provided with the correct equipment. So they just watched as a ferry holding close to five hundred civilians (half of which were students) sunk. They assumed someone else made the call to evacuate and looked on as hundreds lost their lives inside.

Director Seung-jun Yi compiles footage of this 2014 tragedy from the rescuers’ recordings, phones and dash cams recovered from the vessel, and audio recordings of conversations that never break from their circuitous loop of needing a camera on scene before doing anything. The captain abandons ship. Kids text their parents that they were told to stay put. And President Park Geun-hye simply sleeps. It’s unfathomable that only one government ship arrived and did nothing. It’s unfathomable that civilian volunteers had to arrive to dive in hopes of finding survivors (and later bodies). It’s criminal that those involved gradually begin to lament the fact they’re going to receive bad PR if they can’t start staging that which they should have completed hours earlier. This should never happen.

But it does. Obviously. And if not for dedicated parents and bystanders refusing to forget (months-long protests were held before a trial inevitably opened), it might have been covered up. Yi’s In the Absence therefore exemplifies the importance of good journalism and the necessity for full transparency in all government activities. These are elected officials filling crucial, life and death positions with under-qualified applicants. They must be held accountable and the public must know the details in order to better understand whom they’re voting for next. It’s one thing to do your best and still fail, but a whole other to watch and do nothing. The latter unfortunately appears to be the norm these days. You don’t have to look much further than Trump’s White House for proof.

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