Monday, October 16, 2006

Bitter Films: Vol. 1

I have finally seen Don Hertzfeldt's The Meaning of Life, and it is truly an incredible piece of animation. It would be a feat for a team of animators with computer aid, yet Don animated the entire short by hand by himself and shot it with a regular animation camera. No special trickery, no CGI or computer editing, just whatever he could do by hand.

I wrote more and then realized everything I was writing about was written in better detail here.

To describe the narrative would sort of ruin the experience, though you'll no doubt gather that it is about life and evolution. At times it feels nihilistic, as the people in the film seem to serve no purpose and achieve no good. All the people are depicted just stumbling through life stupidly repeating their individual banal mantra. Yet I can't hold that the film is completely nihilistic, because Hertzfeldt animates moments of incredible beauty (spinning galaxies, creatures evolving and moving through the frame). There is also a scene towards the end with two future creatures (a parent and child), and the child creature seems to ask the parent creature about the meaning of life. The parent creature scoffs and enters into a lengthy speech in an alien language that seems to be describing his idea of the meaning of life, though he ends it with another scoffing "Hah!" and walks away, leaving the child observing a beautiful oceanic sunset described entirely by colored light.

So in the end I'm not sure what Hertzfeldt thinks the meaning of life is. A lot of the short seems like it could be more aptly titled "The Definition of Life (according to Don)," with little nagging questions about the meaning being left open here and there. Yet this short took him 4 years working 7 days a week by himself to animate, so there's something there. And the answer perhaps lies in the fact that this animation exists. Don created it. He dedicated 4 years of his life to animating something beautiful, to creating these creatures and new animation techniques. I think that, for Don's work, the meaning has to be found in the creative process as well as the content.

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