(Written by Allison Brown)
Aloners, directed by Hong Sung-eun, is a masterful and comedic commentary on the fear of dying alone, not being good enough, and living a monotonous life. As a single woman in my early thirties spending the past year and a half primarily on my own due to the pandemic, I can relate to the many existential crises portrayed in Aloners. This type of film so accurately captures a multitude of female insecurities that it could only have been made by a woman.
Jina Yu (Gong Seung-Yeon) is an emotionless telemarketer going through the motions in her life. Her mother, Huija Kim, recently passed away, and it seems their relationship, as well as that with her surviving father (Jeong-hak Park), was filled with friction. Jina is the most successful employee on her team at IB Card (even despite taking off two days for her mother’s funeral), but her life is otherwise unremarkable. Despite outshining her peers, her boss is still incredibly demanding, manipulates her, and guilts her into doing tasks from upper management which she does not wish to take on. There is a mutual respect between them, but that comes second in regards to call recordings and numbers. The age-old idiom should be said that women should be supporting women, but many of my personal experiences with female managers were not quite different. Jina deals with customer calls at work as if a robot, eats ramen each day for lunch in the same restaurant alone, takes the bus home, attempts to avoid social neighbors on her building floor, tries her hardest to ignore her father’s calls, and falls asleep to the television constantly running in the background. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Jina leads a depressingly mundane life. If this were the entire film, it would clearly be a bore. Enter Sujin Park (Jung Da-eun), a new hire that Jina is forced to train and a breath of fresh air. Sujin appears to be very young, perhaps even high school age; I was shocked to learn the actress is twenty-seven! Her character’s immaturity must be a large part of her youthful appearance. Sujin is constantly fidgeting with the objects in front of her, lacks self-esteem, falls asleep at work, and desperately tries to connect with Jina. Jina is not a very good leader and lacks patience; her indifference towards management affects Sujin in the worst way possible. She takes calls very personally, and lets any small failures truly get to her. Their relationship is relatable on both sides, and definitely forced me to evaluate my persona in my own career.
Comedic moments injected in the overall drama make for a thoroughly entertaining film. These include a recurring caller who is convinced he is a time traveler and dreams of getting to 2002; an argument with a customer asking why an establishment called “Titty Karaoke” showed up their bill; and a wildly absurd and sexual death that goes unnoticed (headlines read: “loner crushed to death by porn”).
The denouement, although mildly hinting at Jina’s desire to change, is still horrendously pessimistic. She is always on the outside looking in, and it does not feel like she ever truly lives. It left me contemplating so many questions about my self-worth, attitude towards life and treatment of others. Why am I angry and annoyed at the world all the time? Am I construed to be a “bitch”? Am I too consumed in my own world to notice what is happening right in front of me? Do I lack patience for others less experienced career-wise? The phantom beeping sounds that Sujin gets from the tone connecting prior to a call: I hear comparable noises in my sleep from the clicks of never-ending arriving Slack messages.
Aloners will unload its existential dread when it premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 10th.