Junglies | Morrisville, NC United States | 02/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am not normally one for documentaries but so much has been said about the regime in North Korea that this movie was impossible to pass up. One cannot be anything else but sceptical when reading the jacket notes about the access of the documentary crew and the lack of interference by the minders but after watching the movie it is clear why this is the case.
The subject matter is relatively straightforward. North Korea operates under a collectivist regime where individuality is sacrificed to the needs of the state. The documentary examines a public manifestation of that overarching impetus in the Mass Games and counterposes the lives of two individuals aspiring to participate in the presentation before the current leader of the country. As a backdrop to that journey the documentary looks at the ordinary lives that these two people lead in their journey to the event.
What emerges is a picture of a society where the inhabitants see the outside world from a perspective which is radically different from that of secular westerners. The concept which continualy comes to mind is gestalt which means that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. What is fascinating to me is that there is no coming together of either view. The documentary presents a picture which is sumptuous in it's colours and organisational feats but which illustrates to our eyes the paucity of the collectivist ethos and the damage which is done to the individuals in that society. At the same time ina gestalt switch the viewer who holds such views sees the same film as one which illustrates the achievement of something for the common good despite the considerable adversity. Shoertages are endured and people are taught to be self-reliant, a concept so proudly associated with the concepts of Liberalism (in the European rather than the American sense).
One is transfixed as the movie progresses with the determination and resolve the two young girls show in order to achieve, for them, the highest possible accolade in their society.
From a slightly more jaundiced perspective it is not surprising that this film was shot without interference. Both families under the watch of the filmcrew live in Pyon Yang, rightly considered to be the showcase of North Korea's socialist sytem. The only departure from that city is to a collective farm for a brief holiday and although the famine's and food aid are mentioned it is not possible to infer any generalisation about life in the country from that one example which is not filmed in much detail.
All in all this is a film about individual development in a totalitarian state. For those of us who aspire to Liberal ideals it is a testament to how individuals can achieve what they set out to achieve, regardles of the prevailing political sytem. For those of a more communitarian bent, it is a film which brings out the best features of a collective system where the individual subordinates their own needs to those of the society as a whole.
This certainly is a spectacular movie, no getting away from that. It is also the first peek under a very heavy curtain and hopefully will not be the last. As a counterfactual it would be interesting to see a North Korean documentary on a western democracy to try to understand their society a little more."
"State of Mind"
Mrs. Mary E. Connor | San Marino, California, USA | 03/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I highly recommend A State of Mind, a newly released documentary on North Korea. Why do I recommend it? It is particularly worth seeing because British filmmaker, Daniel Gordon, was actually given permission to film by North Korea, one of the least known or understood nations in the world. The film dramatically conveys how an authoritarian regime has shaped the minds of its people. North Koreans are totally indoctrinated in believing in their Dear Leader, communism and the idea that their country is the best place in the world. The film provides images of Pyongyang and the way of life of the people who reside there. Interviews reveal that North Koreans are very interested in our war in Iraq and convinced that the United States is an imperialist threat to their way of life and that our economic sanctions are the source of their hardships. American audiences will be surprised to see healthy and cheerful North Koreans and to hear them stoically admit that food and energy shortages are part of city life.
The film focuses on two delightful North Korean schoolgirls (ages 11 and 14) who are selected to train for the Mass Games and whose lives revolve around a rigorous daily routine to prepare for the Games in hopes that Kim Jong Il (often known as the Dear Leader) will be there to see them perform and know that they are good communists. The shots of the actual Mass Games where 100,000 people participate in an elaborately choreographed exhibition of dazzlingly colorful, perfectly synchronized routines will stay in your mind forever. Needless to say, the Dear Leader never showed up for any of the Games.
Koreans understandably will see this as a sad film and it is. I personally find it tragic, fascinating, thought provoking and invaluable for many reasons. It is my hope that A State of Mind will make Americans more attentive to the existing crisis on the Korean peninsula and the ongoing threat of nuclear war.
Mary Connor, educator and author of "The Koreas: A Global Studies Handbook.
An unprecedented glimpse behind the curtain
I. Morgan | Washington DC | 07/05/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A fascinating and often disturbing vision of what the children of North Korea's elite will subject themselves to in order to please their "father", Kim Jong-Il. While I applaud the film-makers for their excellent work, I had to take exception with two points. First, they seem to accept without reservation the idea that the US would seriously consider invading North Korea. Second, their translation tones down the language that is used by their subjects to refer to Americans throughout the film. "Migungnom" is literally "American bastard"."
Not much else to add to the previous reviews....
Sure Enough | Prescott Valley, Arizona | 03/28/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"...just get it and keep an open mind. There is no better path to understanding North Korea than to see how life actually plays out there and in that sense, this documentary delivers in spades."
By far the best and deepest insight into the mindset of Nort
P. Conlon | London, UK, Europe | 08/08/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"North Korea fascinates due to it being the most isolated (by its own choice) and most severely repressive nation on Earth. There are, to my knowledge, three insightful DVDs on the subject: `A State of Mind', `National Geographic - Inside North Korea' and `North Korea: A Day in the Life'. I have purchased all three. An important point to note is that any footage allowed out of North Korea is almost exclusively of the capital, Pyongyang, which is far from being representative of life in the country as a whole. Only a fraction of the population are specially selected to live there; even for these `privilaged' souls life is bleak and dominated by political propaganda. `A State of Mind' concentrates on the preparations of two young gymnasts for the showpiece Mass Games performance. Of the three, this DVD gives by far the best and deepest insight into the brainwashed mindset of the North Koreans, with its excellent documentary narration and carefully selected material. It is also important to bear in mind however that this film only shows what is approved by the regime - all the despicable aspects of the North Korean experience are not covered. There also has remarkable footage of the Mass Games of course and the grand military parades (both visually stunning) that seem to be the focus of life there. `National Geographic - Inside North Korea', being told from our outsider's perspective, is the only complete and balanced overview of North Korea here. It puts North Korea on the map with its historical context, draws widely on footage from many sources and - free of regime censorship - shows as best it can the true horror story that the regime tries to hide at all costs. Information presented on health standards, nutrition and the extensive concentration camp system are quite staggering. `North Korea: A Day in the Life' is what the title says it is; it follows a day in the life of a `typical' (regime selected) family in Pyongyang. This is not narrated and concentrates solely on the daily routine, so really brings across the bleakness of these people's life. Again this officially-approved film only shows what is approved by the regime. The carefully selected images shown (for example the table overloaded with food in a city known to be tightly rationed) and the often unreal scripted dialogue only really serve to show how out-of-touch the regime is which choreographed it. This film does show well the grinding inefficiencies of North Korean life, but all-in-all compares poorly with `A State of Mind'. For a good understanding of North Korea, I recommend viewing `National Geographic - Inside North Korea' and `A State of Mind', in that order."