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'Stoker': Chan-wook Park, Therese DePrez detail the film's symbols

The director and his production designer offer insight about 'Stoker's' images of birds and nests, hunting, religious iconography and more.

March 06, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times
  • Mia Wasikowska is circled by her trademark shoes in a scene from "Stoker."
Mia Wasikowska is circled by her trademark shoes in a scene from "Stoker." (Fox Searchlight )

Foreign auteurs tend to enjoy a good metaphoric image or three. And few like them more than Chan-wook Park, the South Korean filmmaker behind violent cult hits such as "Oldboy."

In "Stoker," Park's English-language debut starring Nicole Kidman that opened in Los Angeles last weekend, there are a number of memorable images. They're all there for a reason.

"Stoker" centers on the loner India (Mia Wasikowska), her aloof and at times rivalrous mother (Kidman) and India's affectionate but mysterious uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode). There is an ominous undercurrent that it soon becomes clear is about serial killing (hey, this is the guy who did "Oldboy"), and how children can grow up to become, well, at once something entirely unexpected and yet completely in keeping with their destiny. (No spoilers, but if you've seen the film you know what we're talking about.)

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We asked Park and his production designer Thérèse DePrez (who worked on "Black Swan" — a movie that Park told her he wanted to, gulp, out-stylize) to break down some of the film's images and offer insight on what they meant. (You can see a few of the shots in the adjacent photos.) Here's a cheat sheet.

Eggs and birds: There are shots of actual nests, outdoor furniture that looks like nests, birds being hunted, even, in the script, a deviled egg. At a basic level, India is a bird looking to flap her wings. Is there more to it? "This is a story of a baby chick trapped inside the eggshell," Park said. "The eggshells allude not only to the house India lives in but a metaphor for a solid and strong sense of self. And Uncle Charlie enters her life to break the eggshell."

Hunter and hunted: In a key flashback that recurs several times, India can be seen hunting with her late father. (She is hunting, of course, birds.) A documentary that Uncle Charlie is watching also shows an eagle being hunted. As Park tells it, "India is the hunted [prey] at the same time that she's a predator."

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Reds and greens: Numerous rooms in the Gothic house that India and her mother occupy are painted in single, bold colors. Among those spaces, there is an overstuffed living room in a blood red (that meaning is clear sans any directorial commentary) and a lime-green motif meant to underscore the emotions of the characters. "We talked a lot about what the colors meant," DePrez said, "like India and her mother each being green with envy over Charlie's affections."

Religious iconography: A number of shots in "Stoker" have religious overtones; in one, India makes snow angels on her bed in a way that suggests a crucifix. Park allows he had some religion in mind: "Uncle Charlie's character could even be changed to Uncle Johnny," he said, "because John the Baptist came to his mind, heralding the coming of India, much as John the Baptist heralded the coming of Christ." And you thought this was just a serial-killer movie.


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