I saw The Wailing yesterday, a film by Na Hong-jin and the ending was very confusing to me.
- Who really was the girl in white?
- Why did the shaman have the photos of the Japanese old man?
- Why isn't Jong-Goo dead at the end?
Obviously, this is really spoiler-y, which the subject header itself should make clear. Keep in mind that the characters are allegorical, but not strictly so, which makes for a richer (or more muddled, depending on your point of view) variety of interpretations.
The Girl in White was Jesus/God/the good guy. Your first clue is that she's throwing stones at Jong Goo. ("Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.") At the end, she gives Jong Goo a test of faith (which he fails), asking him to believe her without seeing. That's why all her protections shrivel up when he returns to the family compound.
Taking pictures in the movie is a metaphor for capturing souls. That's why Japanese guy has all the pictures, and why he takes the priest's picture at the end. The Japanese guy is, like, the anti-Jesus: He really is the devil, or the devil's incarnation, but note that he goes through very Jesus-like experiences with stonings and what-not. The Shaman, I would say, is trying to wrangle the devil, hence the picture.
Why would Jong-Goo be dead? The devil seems to prefer making his vicitms insane, and murderous. None of those he possessed died right away. Preusmably he does not live well or long after the final scene.
Source: An interview with the director which I cannot find, dammit! I'll post as soon as find it!
Update: Here's an IMDB thread which excerpts the same interview I read though without linking it.
Here is my interpretation.
1) It's a battle between the girl in white (good) and the old Japanese guy (evil) for the soul of the villagers.
2) The shaman is actually working for the Japanese guy (devil) because there are four important clues (a-d):
2a) the white Japanese underwear that he wore in 1 scene, which is the same underwear the Japanese man wears.
2b) his ritual was targeting the little girl, as the girl's pain corresponds to the shaman hammering the nail. The Japanese man also was in pain during Shaman's ritual, but these two were not connected, as there was one scene showing the girl in white (source of pain for the Japanese man) near the Japanese man during the ritual. The director made the two rituals parallel to make it seem that the shaman was targeting the Japanese man.
2c) Shaman meets the girl in white and vomits blood and white pukes, a strong indication of impurity. (also, any normal person would probably faint after vomiting so much blood and body content...suggesting the shaman is not just a normal person. Also, there was another murder scene in the movie, where the yard of the residence has ritual setups, suggesting the shaman's ritual did not work
2d) Another strong clue that the shaman is working for the Japanese man is that at the end of the movie, he has a box of pictures of the victims. The Japanese man claims that he has burnt them. In reality, he has given them to the Shaman for safekeeping.
3) the girl in white is good because she can throw stones (a reference to the Bible) and she is able to physically touch humans. On the contrary, the Japanese man has never made physical contact with anyone, suggesting he has no physical form.
Overall, this movie is about the devil fishing for human's soul. The theme is shown at the start of the movie as a closeup to the Japanese man fishing by the river. It is then echoed a number of times during the movie as well.
For those who said the girl was jesus, has anyone noticed that the old man talking to the priest at the end in the cave revealing himself to be a devil, he had a coin sized hole in his palm like those on jesus hands. I for one do not agree with the storyline because at some points it seemed the girl in white was fighting against the old man who was a devil and the shaman who was fighting against the old man, yet at other point in the story the girl in white was fighting against the shaman who was supposed to fight the devil oldman . There seemed to be no clear line of who was the good and who was the bad, and there was no clear clue that the shaman was ever possessed. A lot of details in the plot can never really be explained well, thus this movie was too convenient and ended without clear defined boundaries to make a good story. While it opened itself to many explanation, none can really fit well to give a truly satisfied answer.
I just saw the movie and was very confused but then I read Ace's comments and did some thinking (Ace's comments were like my cliff notes.)
This was a movie with a Christian flair that has a few Biblical references (the stone casting by the young mysterious lady, the 3 rooster calling at the end of the film.) And there was a scene where the policeman met with a Christian priest and the priest told him that he cannot help if he continues to use a Shaman to solve the problem.
The Shaman was always with the devil. In the Christian faith, all types of super natural act are considered acts of the devil (miracles performed by Jesus notwithstanding.) Witch doctors, shamans, fortune tellers are frowned upon by Christianity. The fact that he vomited in the presence of the young mysterious lady was a sign that he was the evil in the presence of God. The moth attack on his car was not the act of the devil but the act of God. And as Ace pointed out, he wore the same undergarment as the possessed Japanese man - a subtle hint by the filmmaker.
The young mysterious lady was a God like figure. She was always following the Japanese man.
Again as Ace pointed out, the rituals that the Shaman and the Japanese man were doing were not related. The goal was to confuse us a little bit using some of the traditional supernatural rituals that are often used in more generic asian horror movies pitting the good against the evil to create an exciting "fight" scene. I think the point was the Shaman was doing his thing to generally try to convince people to believe in his supernatural powers - i.e. Convincing people to believe in a false god. The ritual performed by the japanese man was actually to fight off God trying to cast the devil out of him which succeeded. The mysterious lady God figure showed up right after it was done.
The zombie was the dead man that got possessed by the devil after it was cast out of the Japanese man by the mysterious lady. Then after the zombie got incapacitated, it re-possessed the Japanese man.
The movie had a theme of faith or lack of (at least it's one of the themes.). Here is an average joe that really couldn't do anything right. He appeared a bit male chauvinistic and lacked any kind of conviction. At the end of the movie, he simply didn't have enough faith and got his family killed (I don't blame him though since it would've been hard on anyone to make a decision either way.) And also at the end of the movie when the devil revealed himself in his true form in the cave, he said to the priest aid - if you already believe I'm the devil, then I'm already the devil. Reverse that, if you don't believe there is God, then there is no God. I think the point here was the devil didn't need to reveal himself for us to believe in his existence (the priest aid already "knew" he was the devil) but we often expect God to reveal himself before we believe in him (as the policeman didn't trust the mysterious lady at the end.). Bad things happen and we think they're the devil's acts. When good things happen, we often attribute them to our own doing.
Just my humble conclusions. I was too confused while watching the movie to appreciate it. But I think it has a lot of subtleties and undertones that are usually missing in more mainstream horror movies. I wish it was scarier since I also like simple, straightforward good scares.
I agreed with the point 1 answer. Point 2. The shaman tried to kill the devil but failed in the exorcism. It backfired on shaman and he become controlled by devil. Point 3. Not all victims die as the first few victims shown to be alive in earlier cases. Like God, we shall never know what the Devil really think. Maybe he think leaving the protagonist in his current state is worse than death.
I think the Shamamn was bad guy at the end because he told the father to go back to his daughter while the angel told him to wait, and when he went at night to the girls house there was the angel and asked what is your business here and started bleeding and vomiting, about the Japanese guy its clear in the end but how?
The director said the movie is open to different interpretations. Yet, he also emphasized the girl is a good one. So we're free to spin the story anyway we want as long as we use that parameter. Kinda lame. Aside from some superficial reference to the Bible (throwing stones, rooster cries), I didn't see anything innately godly about the woman. As the guardian of the village, she didn't really do much. People died left and right and she was simply spooking around in mismatched outfits borrowed from the dead villagers. If she really was god, Jong-gu was basically doomed because he wasn't a christian. If he at least read the bible, he might have been saved by telling who's who?