In Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), Hannah Arendt discussed the banality of evil. She commented on how Eichmann, the Nazi officer that helped in executing millions of Jewish people, considered his behavior extremely normal and justifiable. She also described how evil is not a far-fetched concept but is rather masked in banality. The play Behemoth’s theme is in line with Arendt’s ideas. During the 110 minutes of the play, it relentlessly exposes the hypocrisy and evil of human beings, leaving the audience lost in thought and introspection.
Behemoth is a fantastical figure that originates from the Bible. While Leviathan is the beast of the sea, Behemoth is the beast of the land. The play Behemoth portrays the beast, the devil that lives deep inside human beings. The plot contains everything one can associate with evil, including murder, betrayal, denial, and lies. Based on the Korea Broadcasting System (KBS) Drama Special Monster (2014), the play has successfully adapted the intricate emotions and complicated storyline on stage in a livelier manner.
The synopsis of Behemoth is simple and nothing much can be said without spoiling the ending. A powerful politician’s son gets involved in a murder case. The rivalry between the lawyer who is willing to do anything for money and the prosecutor who is righteous is also there, which is not a groundbreaking news. However, this play is unlike other typical courtroom dramas. It neither shoves the “justice prevails” ending down the viewers’ throats, nor has a dichotomous classification of good and evil.
Behemoth tells the audience that justice is complicated. People change under certain circumstances and there is a reason for everything. The director of the play, Kim Tae Hyeong remarked, “I was drawn to the original Drama Special Monster because of its fast-paced story, unique characters, and an unforeseeable twist,” during an interview with E-daily News. He further added, “We tried to remake it into a more stage-appropriate version with increased vividness. We wanted to portray the bitter reality in which people can turn into monsters.”
Other than the intriguing plot and theme of the play, the stage design is also noteworthy. The four different sections of the stage are as follows: the hotel bedroom where the murder took place, the prosecutor’s office, the interrogation room, and the hotel lounge. The interrogation room where the conversation and interaction between the characters are most tense is mounted in the middle of the stage, effectively highlighting the emotion of the characters. The hotel bedroom almost floats on the upper level of the stage. The distant location of the bedroom contrasted with the rest of the places successfully implies that what happens upstairs takes place in the past.
▲ A scene from Behemoth. Provided by tenasia.hankyung.com.
Furthermore, a projector is used frequently during the play. Using the projector and a white screen, photographs of the crime scene, news reporting scene, and past memories are visually conveyed to the audience. Considering that the play covers complex situations like murder, visual aids do help the audience to better understand what is going on. The classical music soundtrack also sets the atmosphere and intensifies the characters’ emotion. It is the music that the original Drama Special Monster also used, which will bring fond memories back for the fans of the drama.
In addition to technical changes that were necessary, the content of the original drama is also a little bit altered. The structure of the story is the same, but the term Behemoth first appears in the play version, which displays the cruel and vicious side of the character much better. Also, the play is more descriptive and explains the situation in a more detailed manner. It reveals the court’s final ruling in the trial, while the drama did not. The lines are added to specifically explain to the audience how and why evil is seen in the characters too.
The most noticeable alteration, however, is how it ends. At the very end of the play, current news of Korean society is aired through the screen. The news reports of the Choi Soonsil scandal and Trump’s executive order on immigration briskly flash on and off the screen. Then, without a single word, the actress covers her eyes with a scarf and stands in the middle of the stage, posing like the statue of justice.
▲ Curtain call of February 1, 2017. Photographed by Kim Ji Won.
The statue of justice is a goddess with her eyes covered. The original intention of the covered eyes is that when making a judgement, one should not be influenced by external factors. Behemoth begs to differ. A line in the play states that to be in a position to make judgements and influence society, one has to neglect certain things in some situations, even though it may not be the most moral judgement, the right thing to do.
The interpretation of this scene is left to the audience. What is indisputable is that the lesson that the play tries to give is applicable to any moment in the history of the world. It shows how under extreme circumstances, people can turn into Behemoths. From Eichmann in the 20th century to politicians of the current society, people can lose grip of morality and justice in the blink of an eye. The scariest part is that we, too, are not free from the danger. With the right reason, the right time, and the right place, no one can escape the possibility of becoming evil. This is exactly what Behemoth is showing, warning, and fearing.