Sat. Sep 30th, 2023

It is frustrating to see Jina’s creators try to pull their stubborn antiheroine out of the corner that she finally realizes she’s painted herself into. Until then, Jina occupies a cramped emotional pocket universe of her own. Working this routine—work, smoke, lunch, more work, then a microwaveable meal and TV before bed—can relieve everyday problems. But not always.

Sujin eventually cracks up during a phone call with a rude customer, so Jina steps in to help her. And while Jina goes through the motions of apologizing to the obnoxious caller, Sujin’s voice floats above her reluctant mentor’s call center banter: “Why should I apologize?” Sujin whispers. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

For a while, Sujin’s question provides the clearest and hardest dramatic guideline for Jina and her story. The non-committal way that she handles her problems is obviously flawed, but her actions still not only make sense, based on the information available to her (and us) but also credibly reflect how imposing the world outside of her head can be.

Nobody needs to be told that working—and socializing and living—today can be alienating. Rather, “Aloners” goes deeper than most other similar dramas by showing how various social entanglements ask us to quietly accept inane or unfair social obligations. I really admire how hard writer/director Hong Seong-eun worked to keep Jina elusive, not only because it makes “Aloners” more dramatic (and often quite funny) but also because it shows an unusual respect and unsentimental attachment for Jina, a very real character who could have easily seemed ungenerous or self-absorbed.

Jina is not a problem to be solved, even though the end of “Aloners” suggests otherwise. The best scenes in Hong’s movie still reflect the ambient dread and solitary ecstasies of being a loner, especially if the lifestyle you’ve half-chosen and half-fallen into makes being apart from others seems like the best possible coping strategy. There’s nothing wrong with how Jina’s story ends, but it’s even more thrilling to see Hong let Jina be alone without prescribing what’s really going on with her. There are obvious reasons for and answers to Jina’s problems, but they never completely explain her away.

Now playing in theaters. 

By Dave Jenks

Dave Jenks is an American novelist and Veteran of the United States Marine Corps. Between those careers, he’s worked as a deckhand, commercial fisherman, divemaster, taxi driver, construction manager, and over the road truck driver, among many other things. He now lives on a sea island, in the South Carolina Lowcountry, with his wife and youngest daughter. They also have three grown children, five grand children, three dogs and a whole flock of parakeets. Stinnett grew up in Melbourne, Florida and has also lived in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Cozumel, Mexico. His next dream is to one day visit and dive Cuba.