Every human is a gardener at heart, haunted by a longing for Eden, as Minari masterfully shows. Yet no earthly place we’ve settled in—or migrated from—will ever satisfy our desire for a better country, the “heavenly one” where God’s people will dwell forever with Christ (Heb. 11:16).
When I first saw the trailer for Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, I was floored with excitement. As a Korean American, my phone blew up with others in my community anticipating cathartic tears from our rekindled childhood. After viewing Minari, though, my eyes were dry of any tears of nostalgia or trauma. But my soul was full. Chung did not reach for the easy, simple fruit of creating a feel-good story of his upbringing, but rather “something that got at spiritual matters and what it means to be a human being. What it means to be a man. What it feels like to be a failure.”
Chung, a Christian, wrote to me:
I made the film with the conviction and hope that we share much in common as human beings. Sometimes Korean Americans can feel alienation in their communities due to race, and they can feel further alienation in their own families while navigating cultural and language barriers with older generations. My desire was to go beyond these apparent divisions and look for the human story within this film’s setting and people.
Minari reminds us of the truths of Hebrews 11:13–14, that we are “strangers and exiles on [this] earth . . . seeking a homeland.”
Search for Eden
The film—out today in select theaters or virtual screenings—follows Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun), who leads his family from California’s comforts to the beautiful but lonely Ozarks of Arkansas to build a “big, big garden.” With the “best dirt in America,” he hopes his farm’s crops will be bountiful and profitable.
Chung wanted viewers to resonate with this desire to return to Eden. “Of all texts, Scripture was most likely the biggest reference for the script,” he told me. “The Bible includes many stories about gardens and farming, and the entire arc of its narrative seems to place key moments of betrayal and redemption within gardens. Minari is a story of immigrants, but at its heart, it’s about a family trying to find a new life. They’ve left one garden and are in search of another.”
The film’s central conflict comes when Jacob’s dreams of a flourishing garden clash with his wife Monica (Yeri Han), whose focus is on the flourishing of the family itself, especially their young son (Alan S. Kim), who has a weak heart. As the story progresses, Jacob’s garden task turns out to be about much more than just producing a healthy crop and being a successful farmer. It’s also about being cultivated as a healthy man and husband, father and friend.
Watering our Gardens
Much of the film’s drama stems from Jacob’s search for an essential ingredient for his farm: a water source. His search for a nourishing well—“Jacob’s well,” another biblical reference (John 4:6)—is full of setbacks.