In summer 2018, the movie Maquia: When The Promised Flower Blooms briefly appeared in theaters.
I knew almost nothing about the movie. But after some research, I thought it might be good. On the weekend it was showing, I decided to take the risk and go see it.
There weren’t many people in the theater. But as the movie ended and the end credits played, I think none of us moved to leave until the credits were finished, and not because it was a Marvel movie. It’s a tricky thing to assume what others are thinking, especially strangers, but I’d guess that none of us were in a great hurry to leave behind what we’d just seen and felt.
The story of ‘Maquia’
The Iorph consider themselves the Clan of the Separated. They are a people who look like normal humans, but who can live decades and even centuries and still look young. They live apart from the human societies around them, and their main occupation is the creating of a fabric they call hibiol, which seems to serve as a kind of weaving of fate and as a way they can communicate with each other. Maquia is a young Iorph girl.
When the Iorph city is invaded by the human kingdom of Mezarte, Maquia finds herself far from home and alone. About to give in to despair, she hears a cry and comes on the remains of wagons that had been attacked by robbers. There is only one survivor, a newborn child still protectively clutched in his dead mother’s arms. Maquia decides to take this child and raise it, naming him Ariel, and through many years and throughout all the other large-scale events in the movie, royal maneuverings and kingdoms in revolt against each other, the story always comes back to the joys and struggles of this mother who is forever a stranger in the human world and her foundling human child.
Mother and child
I guess it’s a bit of a cliché that the main characters of a fantasy story are people who do not have parents, and to some degree that is a part of this story, too. Maquia is an orphan, though the leader of the Iorph seems to care for her a parent would, and Ariel has lost his parents while he’s still very young. But the fact that this movie focuses so much on this mother-child relationship between Maquia and Ariel puts it a bit apart from a lot of other epic fantasy stories, and is in most ways a welcomed change from the cliché.
Yet it shows the limits to that relationship in itself, too. When Ariel is little, Maquia seems to be enough for him, but as he gets older, beginning to work to help them live and growing into that awkward stage where he’s no longer a boy but not yet a man, the lack of a father begins to have an affect on him, and not always a good one. For the men he works with, their ideas of Ariel becoming a man involve getting him staggering drunk. It’s a bit of an irony, then, that at the same time that Maquia turns down a marriage proposal from a man she’s known for a long time, Ariel turns to that same man to help him become a soldier.
The other story
The movie also has a subplot involving two of Maquia’s Iorph friends, Krim and Leilia. If Maquia’s story is in the end difficult but happy, theirs is a tragic one. At the moment the Krim expresses his heart towards Leilia and she happily responds, their city is invaded by soldiers riding dragon-like creatures and is quickly overrun. Leilia is taken captive and forced to marry the Prince of Mezarte. It’s a loveless marriage meant solely to put Iorph blood into the royal bloodline.
Krim is free, and tries desperately to get to Leilia and free her from her gilded royal prison. But as years and decades pass, he falls more and more into hatred and bitterness. In the end, his demands that Maquia and Leilia forget their children, Maquia’s adopted human boy Ariel and Leilia’s half-human daughter Medmel, is as cruel as any other hardship either woman had faced.
The last part of Leilia’s story is the only part of the movie that really rings wrongly to me. Perhaps the best way to understand it while not excusing her actions and decisions is that after all the things she’s been through in the years since being taken from her home and her people, things implied as well as shown in the movie, including her last encounter with Krim, she’s gotten a little too close to madness and despair.
Why can’t Christians create like this?
As much as I enjoyed seeing this movie, I’ll also admit to some frustration, too. It’s a frustration that can be expressed in a few different ways. Why can’t Christian movie makers create stories about motherhood that are as gripping and moving as Maquia? Why can’t Christian story tellers, me and people like me, create stories about characters that are sympathetic, frustrating, sometimes right and sometimes wrong, go through trying situations without convenient answers and escapes, and anything else that keeps Maquia from becoming a collection of sappy tropes strung predictably together?
No doubt, these questions tend to be unfair. It’s not like anime movies don’t fall into trope-fests, just watch almost any that are based on popular series. Nor is it as if everyone who watches Maquia will definitely like it; I’ve not doubt there will be some who will see it and will not be impressed.
There is always an element of mystery and uncertainty in story-creation. It’s one of those things that just won’t be put into set formulas and step-by-step patterns. Still, I wonder what I can learn from Maquia that may help in whatever my next story idea might be.
Maybe that a fantasy adventure story doesn’t need to be about the typical “Dungeons and Dragons” idea of a group of adventures seeking trouble and treasure. Maybe it can be about a seemingly insignificant little woman and her adopted child who have to move around in order to stay alive and keep secret her identity as someone not exactly normal.
Maybe that a story about a mother and child doesn’t need to be overly sappy and sentimental, nor do it’s conflicts need to be overblown and cliché.
Maybe that a story like this doesn’t need to rely on a romance element, even if it does have a slight one in it.
Maybe that it doesn’t need the typical happily ever after ending to have an ending that will not easily be forgotten.
Yet, I also find myself asking the the question in reverse: what could a Christian view add to a story like Maquia?
After all, there is a bit of a religious element in the story, as Mezarte claims that their renatos, the dragon-like creatures, and the prince’s Iorph bride are signs of God’s favor on them. But that’s also as far as the religious element is developed.
I offer this only as a thought experiment, not any kind of way to improve on the movie, but where I able to throw my two cents into adding to the story, I might think about ways of developing that religious element. Was the church just playing the political game with the ruling family? Were their elements in the church that were against the king’s too desperate attempts to keep his power? What about the church leaders in the small village where Maquia and Ariel first stayed? Would they have offered help and charity to the newcomers? And, mostly, what about sin and redemption, especially in the light of how the movie ends?
If the subtext of this review hasn’t already told you that I highly recommend Maquia, then here it is plainly stated, “Go watch this movie! It is well worth seeing!”