A Review of A Normal Family

A Review of "A Normal Family"
“A Normal Family” About
Initial release: September 14, 2023
Director: Hur Jin-ho
Story by: Herman Koch
Korean: 보통의 가족

Unveiling Morality: A Review of  A Normal Family

Examining morality closely, “A Normal Family” is an unsettling masterpiece based on Herman Koch’s 2009 novel, “The Dinner,” which has also seen three other adaptations by American and European filmmakers over the last decade. Director Hur Jin-ho, with polished visuals and a seasoned cast, crafts a morally intricate work that will challenge and reward viewers.

A Startling Prelude

The film begins with a road rage incident resulting in a man’s death and his daughter’s severe injury. Jae-wan, a criminal lawyer, is tasked with defending a wealthy executive’s son, while his younger brother Jae-gyu, a doctor, performs emergency surgery on the injured girl. Monthly, the two brothers, accompanied by their wives, convene for a fine dining experience in an upscale restaurant.

Probing Humanity’s Core: The Violent Impulse

More than a well-paced narrative, “A Normal Family” delves into a philosophical inquiry: Are humans inherently violent? The specter of violence permeates: Jae-gyu’s son, Si-ho, endures repeated bullying; Jae-gyu accidentally kills a small deer while driving; a juvenile is roughly handled by police officers. Dementia afflicting Jae-gyu and Jae-wan’s mother, causing her to lash out and strike her caregiver, also exuding violence.

Escalating Intensity: The Undercurrent of Violence

The undercurrent of violence steadily escalates throughout the film’s 116-minute duration. Early on, there’s a close-up of Si-ho sitting beside Jae-wan’s daughter, Hye-yoon, who inadvertently squashes a bug, creating a visceral yet uncomfortable moment in the cinema. On another occasion, both teenagers attend a party and, on the way back, unleash a drunken frenzy, kicking at piles of trash. However, a brutal incident involving a homeless man, instigated by both Si-ho and Hye-yoon, ignites a fierce moral confrontation among their parents, unearthing past disputes and straining loyalties.

a normal family reviewJang Dong-gun in ‘A Normal Family’. Credit: A HIVE MEDIA CORP production

The Intricate Dance of Morality

The character development of the ensemble cast – Jae-wan, Jae-gyu, along with their wives Yeon-kyung and Ji-su – orchestrates a delicate and captivating dance, repeatedly juxtaposing one moral choice against another. Are children inherently innocent? If a father reports his child to the police for a crime, does that define him as a good or bad father? If a crime remains undiscovered, does one still bear a moral duty to report it? Even the distinctions between Jae-gyu and Jae-wan’s professions as “honorable” (pediatric doctor) and “less honorable” (criminal defense lawyer) begin to blur as the two brothers grapple with the principles underlying their decisions. Each tug and pull in Hur’s film is finely calibrated, forming a nuanced portrait of human morality.

Privilege and Morality: A Subtle Critique

Within the exploration of life’s values and principles in “A Normal Family,” there is also a subtle but pointed critique of upper-class privilege and how it affords the latitude for moral choices. For instance, the homeless man never has the chance to argue against the cold brutality he endures, whereas Yeon-kyung and Jae-gyu can justify that their medical and volunteer work entitles them to forgiveness. Yeon-kyung passionately insists to Jae-gyu, “You’ve saved the lives of so many children. We did so many good deeds! We deserve that.” However, for those without privilege who commit crimes, incarceration is an inevitable, real consequence. The film contends that with enough wealth and social status, guilt can seemingly be bargained, morality negotiated, and conscience absolved.

Cinematic Craftsmanship

Director Hur frequently frames the characters through windows, creating a sense of distance and emphasizing an aspect of their psyches that remains elusive and inscrutable. Additionally, few films utilize music as deftly as “A Normal Family.” Scored by veteran composer Cho Sung-woo, the film’s gripping music is not a mere embellishment but rather an integral, living force propelling suspicion and intrigue in the narrative.

The Unavoidable Climax

In the final ten minutes of “A Normal Family,” the film reaches its most violent and harrowing climax. Some viewers might find fault with the ending, which fulfills Hur’s (and Koch’s) bleak vision of humanity. Yet, given the convincing journey leading to this point, the conclusion feels almost inevitable and necessary. The web of violence in “A Normal Family” extends beyond the cinematic screen, prompting viewers to grapple with their own morality.

“A Normal Family” Trailer


Q1: Is “A Normal Family” based on a novel?

Yes, “A Normal Family” is based on Herman Koch’s 2009 novel “The Dinner.”

Q2: How does the film explore the theme of violence?

The film delves into the philosophical question of whether humans are inherently violent. It portrays instances of violence and examines their implications on morality.

Q3: What is the significance of the recurring fine dining scenes in the film?

The recurring fine dining scenes serve as a backdrop for the characters to engage in moral dilemmas and discussions, adding depth to the narrative.

Q4: Does the film critique social privilege?

Yes, “A Normal Family” subtly critiques upper-class privilege and how it can impact moral choices and consequences.

Q5: Who are the main characters in the film?

The main characters include Jae-wan, a criminal lawyer, Jae-gyu, a doctor, and their respective wives, Yeon-kyung and Ji-su. They form an ensemble cast that navigates complex moral choices.

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