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To blend-in or to stand-out, the complex world of kids.

Written by Kasia Kurzyniewska

So that the bird could leave its nest, first it needs to learn to fly and to dig up worms. The humans have made it a bit more complex by teaching the children social skills that could help them to integrate in a society. Yoon Ga-eun, a South Korean film director and script writer takes a closer look at the pubescent age and makes it the main theme of most of her movies. In The World of Us she lets us enter the fragile world of a schoolgirl Sun who during the summer break develops a close friendship with Ji-ah, a kid who is new in town. The girls choose together notebooks and stickers, paint their nails with a sap from the hibiscus blossoms, emotionally blackmail parents so they agree for a sleepover and wear friendship bracelets. Sun and Ji-ah become inseparable and enjoy simple activities, share secrets. They are also given some responsibilities that might be difficult to deal with alone but with a helpful hand of a friend they become fun. At the beginning of a new semester the girls’ friendship is put to test when a group of “cool girls” invites Ji-ah to join them and bullies Sun.

Yoon Ga-eun presents the functioning of a small social unit and depicts a dynamic formation of the relations in a society. The talented filmmaker reveals the mechanism of scapegoating and emerging of a leader which are considered to be the key anthropological practices that shape social structures and occurs without the group members being aware of it. The director captures the sensitive nature of Sun. As for her age, the girl seems to be mentally mature, she has a sense of moral correctness and is open for a communication to clear up the miss-understandings. Regardless her empathy and efforts to please the schoolmates, Sun is dealing with a constant rejection and gradually escalating oppression. The appearance of a new schoolgirl Ji-ah has a strong impact on the previously constructed social structure among the classmates. The new situation triggers internal fears of all the girls and leads to a cruel competition between them.

The South Korean director tells a story of an unsuccessful integration of a group of teenagers where each of the members is unhappy in her own way blaming another for her miseries. The projection of their frustrations and disappointments onto Sun affects the girl’s innocence and brings her to the point of loosing control of her anger. Sun desperately desires to become a part of the group to which she clearly doesn’t fit in. Is there maybe another possible way for her to find own place in the society than by adjusting to a framework imposed by the students and by suppressing her vulnerability? Where could the classmates find psychological relief if Sun herself were to back out from the group, and finally, can the violent tendencies and the malicious cycle be broken?

The images are pastel bright and soft. The school is a comfortable space created by adults for their children. Despite the good intentions of the caregivers to provide the kids all the best possible starting from serving favourite snacks through funding expensive tutoring lessons, the parents and teachers appear to be distant, occupied with a daily grind and unaware of worries of their beloved ones. Sterile pictures, empty classrooms, abandoned schoolyard and profound silence intensify the atmosphere of the loneliness which slowly pushes the emotional abilities of Sun. The omnipresent climate of hostility becomes more and more difficult for her to endure and contrasts with the delicacy of the shades of light pink, warm green and calm beige. The perfect image of a carefree childhood begins to collapse. A few times tender piano music accompanies Sun who is struggling with the thoughts about letting go of her precious friendship, taking revenge for all the humiliations she went through and trying one more time to approach the group with her kind and open heart.

The World of Us is a word seen from the perspective of a child who separates slowly from the parents and debuts in the society. In her touching naivety Sun is trying to keep things simple as it is natural for a childlike state of mind. After all, the bound she and Ji-ah have created at the beginning was subtle and authentic, also the moments they shared together were happy and harmonious. So why isn’t the communication always so easy with those around us especially when we grow up? Sun who is looking for external affirmation and at the same time is wishing to remain true to herself could probably identify with the words of an Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore: It is very simple to be happy but it is very difficult to be simple.