Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring as a Buddhist Film
Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring is set in a monastery floating on a remote lake surrounded by mountains and vegetation. The use of long shots and the bird’s eye view/God’s eye view amplifies its isolation. The mixed use of closed framing, vibrant natural colours and the peaceful music attribute to the calmness and simplicity of the place, and these visual and auditory imagery presents a tranquil and hypnotic vision of natural life. This type of distant shots that frames everyday actions can illustrate the relation between characters and the environment and can also stress the pure visual awe and cognitive silence. Minimum makeup is applied on the actors, and their costumes are plain. All these relate to the Buddhist studies of leading a simple life.
Breaking Down the Film Title — Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring
The title of the film uses the passing of seasons to draw attention to impermanence. It may represent the ordinariness and simplicity of the film. The fact that none of the characters have personal names evokes timeless patterns rather than individual stories, and whatever happens in the film can apply to anyone.
The repetition of the word “Spring” may suggest endlessness and foreshadows the repetition of events in the film. Most explicitly, the apprentice’s action of the main character tying a stone to a fish, snake and frog is repeated by his own apprentice he takes in after he grows up.
The Four Noble Truths
The Four Noble Truths (Cattāri Ariyasaccāni) constitute a huge part in the Buddha’s struggle for enlightenment. It is the heart of his teachings which he passed on to his five student monks:
1. In Spring, the protagonist learns the origin of suffering as he torments the animals and carries the “stone” in his heart.
2. In Summer, he experiences Samudaya, as he goes through tanhā (craving) for sexual pleasures.
3. In Fall, he comes back to the monastery, suffering from the loss of the love from his wife, and ends his remorse through carving.
4. In Winter, he undergoes the process of magga, and goes through the Middle Way by meditation, learning martial arts, carving etc.
The film also invites the audience to think of karma. In the Summer segment, the young disciple is shown tormenting a fish, frog and snake by tying stones onto them and laughs. The master sees him doing so but doesn’t say a word. Instead, he ties a stone onto the boy’s back so that he wakes knowing the creatures’ suffering not by empathizing with them, but by finding it embodied in himself. Then he tells the boy, “Go and find all the animals and release them from the stones. Then I will release you too. But if any of the animals, the fish, the frog or the snake is dead, you will carry the stone in your heart for the rest of your life.” This reflects that the master enables the young boy to experience karma, instead of only teaching him.
In the Bhavacakra (Wheel of Life), the hub consists of three animals that represent the “three poisons of ignorance” — pig, snake and bird. In the film, the categories snake and bird show up in the Summer segment. According to the bhavacakra, snakes and birds represent aversion/anger and attachment/craving respectively. This strongly relates to the upcoming incidents that happen in the film. For instance, the main character gets attached to the sick girl. He and the girl make love right after a shot of two ducks are shown on screen. He also becomes agitated when he finds out she had an affair with another man.
In Bhavacakra, Nāmarūpa (constituents of a living being) is represented by an image of two men in a boat. The master and disciple in the movie can be seen as imitating the representation of the Bhavacakra. Therefore, may indicate their existence.
The rowboat is not only a means of transporting men from one place to another, but it can also be a symbol of frustration and escape. For instance, the child apprentice rows the boat to the mountains and ties down the fish, frog, and snake, suggesting he is acting out and visiting on them the frustration he feels at being confined to the monastery. Another scene shows him alone in the boat, rowing with only one oar in the water so that he compulsively spins round and round showing that he is nailed to the spot, just as he is by his frustrated desire. He also rows the boat to the mountains in order to make love with the girl.
On the other hand, the master performs the suicide ritual on the rowboat to escape from reality. It is also worth noting that the master’s emotion is linked to the rowboat — when the disciple is taken away by the police, the boat couldn’t move for a few seconds until the master waved goodbye. Afterwards, the boat floats back to the monastery on its own.
1. Animals — What do the animals in the film represent?
Fish(water), Frog (both water and earth) & Snake (earth) — 10:48
Cat — 57:58; 51:40; 1:31:20 — Sits on dragon, POV from cat to apprentice
Dog — 9:25
Ducks — 38:53; 1:45:06
Goldfish — 2:23 Under statue of Buddha; 9:22
Grasshopper + Rooster — 25:05; 43:15; 47:39
Snake — 1:28:42, 1:18:35; 1:22:47 (suicide)
Tortoise — 1:39:29
2. Frameless doors — What do the frameless doors in the film represent?
3. Why did the master commit suicide?
4. What does “閉” mean?
5. What is the role of Heart Sutra and the 5 Skandhas in the film?
Photo Source: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. Kim Ki-duk. Cineclick Asia, 2003. Film.