Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Separation - a short film by Robert Morgan

The Separation
Released 2003
Directed by Robert Morgan

Wait a minute, I thought this was Media Wednesday...  What are you doing talking about a short film, Joanna?

Valid point.  I know that we review a movie or seven on Fridays, but there's so much amazing visual horror work being done out there that it's really hard to not talk about it.  What about music videos?  They're short films set to music, so where does that put us?  I've decided that since there are so many feature-length movies out there, those are what Fridays are for.  Thus short films, animations, music videos, and recordings of performance art can fit into Spooky Media Wednesdays.

Set to a cripplingly beautiful rendition of Claire de Lune played on a music box, The Separation might be the most emotional stop-motion short I've ever experienced.  The content is gruesome, but the heart-breaking expressiveness of the models will have you cringing and choking up in turn.

The story of this ten-minute vignette follows conjoined twins through their long lives.  In the beginning, we see them in the womb, connected along one side of their torso.  Then, they are in a recovery room.  The room has two beds, but they sit together on only one.  They play with a doll, and tuck a rose into its swaddling.  The scent of the flower makes them smile.

Then, with nightmarish suddenness, they are separated.  One brother has difficulty walking, permanently imbalanced by the lack of his twin.

As men, they work together in a doll shop.  One inserts eyes into rubber heads with a vicious machine, the other sews fabric bodies.  In their own ways they long for the connection they once knew.  When they recognize the longing and loneliness they both suffer, they solemnly make a plan to sew themselves back together.

They build a massive sewing machine.  It's a monster of hissing, squealing noise and churning metal, the huge needle stabbing at a two-person throat plate...

The most striking thing about this short is the emotionality of the figures.  Rather than reaching for the low-hanging fruit of uncanny-valley dolls, Morgan has created a world where his crumpled, fragile, imperfect figures evoke pathos.  Their eyes are deeply expressive, and their delicately colored wax faces convey an intense humanity.  The softness of their flesh is brutally juxtaposed by the industrial relentlessness of the machine.

This is a film about longing, and how sometimes the thing we long for can never be.  All we can achieve is memory.  Far more horrifying than an industrial accident or the disfigurements of the body is the disfigurement of the soul.

If you're interested in more of Robert Morgan's work that is less emotionally grueling and scarier in the traditional sense, I highly recommend Cat with Hands.  It's everything spooky about fairy-tales, everything uncanny about stop-motion models, and deeply atmospheric.  Morgan has said in interviews that Cat with Hands could someday be made into a feature-length film.  I hope he does.  Then I can write about it for a Friday.


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