For some, Art Imitates Life, but Oscar Wilde expresses in his essay The Decay of Lying his belief that “Lie imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” Indeed, a quick search would easily turn up evidence to support either philosophy. The South Korean horror movie Killer Toon would fall on the Life Imitating Art side of the argument. I’d like to look at this film through the Aristotelian lens of mimesis in nature: The Four Causes. But first a little summary.
Killer Toon is about an a web toon artists whose graphic and gruesome works of fiction are actually being realized in real life. As the story unfolds we have to figure out what is real and what is supernatural and what is just bat-sh*t crazy. There’s lots of twists, a few too many for my taste and way too many jump cuts for scares, but all in all it’s a really well done (should have been edited down to 90 minutes) horror film.
The First Cause is the Formal Cause. That’s the blueprint or the ideal of something. In Killer Toon, the blueprint, the immortal idea is that there is cosmic justice for ghosts in the universe. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, we all like to think a person killed horrendously or by some accident would get justice for their death or at the very least retribution. This film drags you right along until the end thinking that it’s the ghosts who are (to paraphrase Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin) “doing it for themselves”.
The Second Cause is the Material Cause. This is the nature of the raw materials being implemented. In this film, that includes the raw materials of the ghosts’ stories. Technology is also being exploited as materials by the ghosts. The creepiest raw material has to be the artist’s own blood she uses to sign her name. We find out in the end that GREED also plays an important part as a material responsible for getting the web toon out there.
The Third Cause is The Agent. In literary analysis we talk about whether a character has agency…or responsibility for the end results of an act. In this film we have an artist who has been stealing stories from the dead to fill her books. This pisses the dead off and eventually leads to their involvement in finding some closure. So is the artist responsible for the deaths of the people killed in ways depicted in her comic? Or is she merely a kind of supernatural reporter channeling stories unaware of their connections to real live people and situations?
The Fourth Cause is The Good or the Telios. This cause looks at the purpose or the end things. It looks to intent, which many theorists feel is irrelevant. But to Aristotle, the end or ultimate intention to good or evil was a consideration. In Killer Toon the end seems to be justice for the dead; however, this gets complicated in the last few minutes by the addition of a twist that implies it was all about personal greed, and one can see that connection, but for me it’s a needless twist or complication.
So whether you feel life imitates art or vice a versa, this film is a good look at how that may play out in the supernatural world.