Often, I find myself debating alone on a barstool, wondering if I should order a pint of beer or if I should go home. Although home is not the correct word in this context, it is more like a shelter for the night, a nondescript cubicle that fulfills the bare minimum. Where is it that I am feeling content? What is making me satisfied? There are not many places or things that provide solace from the hostility of the contemporary world, so why should not I get that pint of beer or smoke that cigarette? At least for a couple of minutes, everything stops. My debts freeze, my rent is not due, the past is behind, and the future looks so far. At least for a fraction of time, I feel fortunate. It is certainly uncommon that I find this sense of stability unattached to a physical place. I feel like a walking cliche – home is where the heart is. However, Jeon Go-Woon’s 2017 film, Microhabitat might contend in my favour.
The film follows Mi-So, a young adult who decides to stop paying rent to afford her two favourite things: whisky and cigarettes. Once she becomes a houseless wanderer, she chooses to visit her closest friends from her time at University, pursuing a shelter she can stay in, as well as, opportunities to reconnect with them. As she spends one night at each of her friends’ homes, Mi-So begins to realize that the appearances they have been holding are not truthful to their realities. They are deeply struggling trying to balance their lives and the path they choose to follow, namely, pursuing a family, getting a corporate job, or dealing with divorce.
All of Mi-So’s friends are unquestionably unhappy. Mi-So (and us) realize that a household, the material and physical space, is not synonymous with home. All the dimensions of a contemporary adult that Mi-So’s friends embody are the result of their disconnection from their surroundings and what brings them joy. This feeling is explored even deeper when Mi-So’s boyfriend, Han-Sol, decides to leave for Saudi Arabia to work a job that will allow him to live ‘normally’. Her abject reaction of anger towards Han-Sol’s decision is evidence that Mi-So has an unfathomable desire to live her life the way she wants to.
Happiness and home seem to be two mutually exclusive terms for Mi-So, but her stubborn fluidity is admired by everyone she encounters. It is as if her choice to inhabit the fringes of society yet fulfill her needs as she pleases is a courageous act no other character in the film appears to have the strength to follow through. The way Mi-So approaches life and her surroundings is a beautiful rebellious act against the biggest columns of the contemporary economic state of the world. She decides to not let a landlord stop her from enjoying herself. She chooses to stand against any entity that will tell her a cigarette and a whiskey are not worth fighting for.
Microhabitat ultimately acts like a manifesto for every single young adult that has ever felt like they just do not belong in the cogs and gears of society. This liminal space where we dwell is, oddly enough, where we find happiness. Although this place is not material, we can claim it as our own–happiness becomes a habitable space. Sometimes home and happiness just mean being comfortable enough to drink that pint of beer and put everything else aside–or so I like to believe–before the solace is consumed by the bleakness of life.
So it all comes back to the barstool and the ruminating brain at the beginning. Alone, I debate again, this time between beer sips: how can we develop a sense of stability without that material/physical location to call home? For Mi-So it is always clear, even though she would have to do it on her own, she is going to stick to her plan. Abandoned by her friends and without a place to live she ends up in a tent under a bridge in the city, enjoying herself with an occasional cigarette. However, I do not have the courage nor the strength Mi-So features in Microhabitat. Mostly because I do not want to be alone. But alas, I am alone with my beer. Another sip generates another question. Can friendships become habitable spaces? My head runs and reruns the query until I realize, a beer is always sweeter and a cigarette is less bitter in company. I am a phone call away from home if I want to share the things I cherish with the people I love. This is where Mi-So and I differ; I am lucky enough to find people willing to share the microhabitat that I describe as happiness.