Get ready to cry buckets when you give this 10-episode series a binge. Warning: minor spoilers and emotional wreckage ahead
Those who’ve lost a loved one may be all too familiar with the inexpressible pain that comes only after all the ceremonious formalities are done. The deafening silence when returning to one’s home boasts an absence that has never been more visceral and real. Clothes left unworn, books meticulously curated across the years, gadgets and jewellery, worn-out shoes—all suddenly bereft of their owner. This is the flip side of loss. A looming presence deeply felt as if a word caught at the tip of one’s tongue, never to come into being.
Polar opposites: good or bad?
After the sudden death of his father, 20-year-old Han Geu-ru is joined by his estranged ne’er-do-well uncle Sang-gu as a part of the Move to Heaven company. Together, they discover the lives of the recently deceased as they clean up their rooms and in the process, seek to understand their complicated stories.
The duo prove to be the most incompatible pair for the job. While Han Geu-ru, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, struggles to understand the world around him, Sang-gu is a lackadaisical ex-convict who moonlights as an underground MMA fighter; one requires order while the other loathes it. This combination alone ups the ante and effortlessly adds dramatic tension to the entire series. Will they learn to work together, or will all this drive them apart?
Each episode is bound to summon a few (if not a bucket) of tears. The slice of life drama excels in earnest storytelling and astounding performances from leads Tang Jun-sang (Geu-ru) and Lee Je-hoon (Sang-gu). The first half of the show is quite procedural and allows audiences to get to know the main characters through their trauma cleaning, while the latter focuses more on their own shadowed pasts.
A particular stand-out is episode 5 where they clean up after a young doctor who was murdered in the ER. They discover posters for classical music concerts, a love letter left undelivered, and tickets to a show the next day. The Move to Heaven crew wiggle their way into the concert venue only to discover that the doctor had been planning to elope with a cellist from the show; being both males, they had separated a year ago for the former to get married and pursue his parent’s wishes. It is only after death that his true feelings are known.
Life summed up in a box
Move to Heaven offers an intricate balance between the agony of those who have moved on and those who have been left behind. It explores, with incredible nuance, the concept of trauma—from the literal procedure of ‘trauma cleaning’, to each family’s ordeal as they go through the deceased's personal effects, to even Geu-ru and Sang-gu’s deep-seated pains from their childhoods or the constant push-and-pull between finding oneself in an otherwise unkind world.
The show also offers a layered problematisation of the idea of boxes. The yellow containers that sum up one's life is a poetic image of how fragile existence can be. As Geu-ru and Sang-gu deliver leftover belongings, they become privy to the departed's struggles and how they've dealt with being boxed-in by life, so to speak; asking viewers to rethink our perceptions of who we are versus who we ought to be. And finally, each room the company cleans may be seen as yet another box in and of itself—this place where we sleep, eat, and live out our days is just another confinement summarising our being, scaled up to four walls and a door.
All in all, the show brings to the fore this truism: in death, we realise just how important it is to live.
Universal yet inimitable
Move to Heaven is a poignant reminder that no one really knows just how to survive after another’s last breath. In the ruin of what was left, all we can do is put together pieces of memories we’d never really bothered to safe keep and precisely remember.
The series is an emotional journey akin to a lonely trip to a park. There you sit alone, staring at those passing by, wondering what lives they lead. You are met with the realisation that although we are all different people, our experiences are equal parts unique and universal. We all go through loss and joy, and a cycle of inexhaustible hurts, only made truly bearable by those whom we love.