‘Broker’ Symbols And Themes, Explained: An Exploration Of The Blurry Lines Between Right And Wrong


Hirokazu Koreeda’s “Broker” is a story of hope, forgiveness, and sacrifice that urges us to see the brighter side even when constantly surrounded by absurdities and prejudices. It is said that the motive of a person behind doing or not doing anything is of utmost importance. In legal systems all over the world, it is imperative that action always be backed up by a proper motive in order to prove whether the person is a criminal or not. Well, if this is so, then can a person who lies, be honest, and could a person who breaks the laws of the country still be innocent? Hirokazu Koreeda persistently appeals to your cynicism and asks these questions throughout the run time of his film, “Broker.” 

Koreeda gives you a conflict where you reach a judgment without even thinking twice. For most people, the first 15 minutes established the fact that Soo-jin and Lee, the detectives, are the protagonists; Ha Sang-Hyeon and Dong-Soo are the villains in the narrative; and Moon So-young is an irresponsible mother who doesn’t think twice before abandoning her baby. But, as the story progresses and you learn more about the characters’ backstories, true intentions, and motivations, your critical judgment about how people should behave begins to fade. Believe me when I say this: when “Broker” ends, you will find your judgments, that you had in the beginning, not only erroneous but blasphemous.

Moon So-Young left her child outside the baby box, but she couldn’t detach herself from the newborn. She came back, searching for her child, and that’s when she came to know that Sang-Hyeon and Dong-Soo were planning to sell the baby. There was apparently a massive black market for adoption operating under the radar, as many people wanted to avoid the otherwise time-consuming processes. Sang-hyeon assured So-young that he only had the child’s best interests in mind, but it all sounded absurd and too good to be true at the time. Sang-hyeon said that the Korean adoption process was so tedious that most of the children ended up in government institutions, and often, the authorities were not able to find the right kind of guardians for the child. 

According to data, a meager 11 percent of children have been placed for domestic adoption in the last 50 years. The problem is that a lot of them are sent to government institutions when they don’t find an adoptive home, and they do not end up getting equal opportunities there. “Broker” points out this failure of the system, and that is why Sang-Hyeon and Dong-Soo become a blessing in disguise for the child. Moon So-Young even says jokingly that, at a later stage, when she saw the kind of people Sang Hyeon and Dong-soo were, if she had known that her child was with them, she wouldn’t have bothered coming back. Bureaucracy could get tedious, and at times the entire system becomes self-contradictory. What use are the adoption laws when they create obstacles in the way of people who genuinely want to provide a home for an abandoned child? 

On one end, the regime had “baby boxes,” as if encouraging parents to go ahead and abandon their child, and on the other hand, they were not even ready to find an amiable middle ground to secure the future of the child. The entire legal system that supports one’s notion of what’s right and what is not seems so Kafkaesque in nature that you cannot really decide which side to lean on. At one point, Soo-Jin and Lee, the detectives, questioned their own actions and what they were constantly being told to do by the authorities. They felt that instead of facilitating an adoption, they were actually laying a trap for the people who were trying to find the best family for the child. As a matter of fact, they had seen how skeptical Sang and Dong were in deciding if the adoptive parents were the right fit for the child or not. 

If there was even a hint of suspicion, Sang Hyeon and Dong-soo completely rejected the family. They wanted the would-be parents to feel as attached to the child as they had felt for the past few days. And that’s where the motive that we previously talked about, comes into play. Had they been doing it just for the money, then they could have given the baby to the fake parents planted by the detectives. But they didn’t because they had a doubt that they might resell the child, and they knew that not everybody would look out for the best interests of the child as they did.

“Broker” also has a standpoint on the ethical aspects of adoption and whether a mother should be given the freedom to decide what’s best for her and her body. Moon So-young, believes that abandoning the baby can’t be compared to the dastardly act of killing a life even before its birth. Recently, there has been a lot of hue and cry about abortion laws in developed nations like the United States of America, and in a lot of states, the constitutional right to abortion has been overturned. But criminalizing abortion is not the solution, and we have the precedents to prove that it is not the correct modus operandi if you want to keep people in check. More than looking out for the safety of the mother, the conservatives vouch for the anti-abortion laws because they don’t find them ‘morally’ correct. Had they had been worried about the well-being of others, they would have known that, according to studies, it is being speculated that a ban might lead to a 20 percent increase in the abortion-related deaths of women. I’m not going to get into a debate about what’s right and wrong, but the point I want to make is, who gives people the right to be flag-bearers of morality in society? We can all have opinions, but we cannot expect or force each and every individual to follow them as if they were a universal law.

Abandonment, loneliness, identity, acceptance, and making difficult life decisions that look quite simple on the surface are a few recurring themes of Koreeda’s “Broker.” We get to know that Dong-Soo had himself been abandoned, and that is why he hated mothers who did that to their children. But Dong-Soo was not unhappy. It might have been a life of struggle, but he savored it and was thankful for what he had. Sang-Hyeon loved children, and because he was deprived of that happiness, he found it in looking after the abandoned babies until some family came and adopted them. Hae-Jin, the kid who goes on the journey with Sang-Hyeon and Dong-Soo, says that Woo-Sung was lucky because he was named by his own mother and didn’t have to go through the ordeal of naming himself. Hae-jin very naively says something that punches you in the gut. He says that he wouldn’t have bothered finding a name for himself if the institution where he stayed didn’t tell him to put his name on the things that belonged to him. He was quite possessive of his football, and he knew that in order to keep it, he would have to name himself sooner rather than later. 

“Broker” is filled with such thought-provoking conversations that, more than once, leave you teary-eyed. You will never find the characters wailing, but there is an innate sadness that has made a permanent home inside them. But “Broker” is not pessimistic or defeatist in its approach, and the characters find happiness despite being in such botched-up situations. Moon So-Young found a family when she least expected it. Her pensive eyes said a thousand words, as she had never believed that she could find people in her life whom she would call family. Even after going through what she did, she chose not to be selfish. She wanted her child to be happy, even if it meant not being by his side.

“Broker” is heartwarming, and more than anything, it is a testament to the fact that satisfaction is not the death of desire, and it shouldn’t be looked at as a compromise. One can be satisfied with their status quo and yet want to work towards making things better. It is a liberating feeling to let go of one’s regrets and remove the unnecessary baggage that we carry on our shoulders. Acceptance never impedes your process, but it gives you the strength to find happiness at any given point in time. The characters in “Broker” could have cribbed about the unfairness of life, but then, they would have been wasting precious moments of it.

Life was not perfect, and they would keep working towards it, but in the process, they didn’t forget to enjoy the little moments. They abstained from loathing their lives or blaming the institution and the people responsible who contributed to making it miserable, because that would have served them no purpose. ‘Koreeda’ takes you on a sentimental and gut-wrenching journey that will make you question your ideals, principles, and judgments but, in the end, will leave you more hopeful and optimistic than before.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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