(Check out my previous Back film review here: Inon)
In 1975, the Quebecois animator and director Frederic Back released his fourth film entitled ¿Illusion?. Following a trend in the production of his first three films, this fourth one was longer than back’s previous release by about thirty seconds and came in at a total length of 11 minutes and 30 seconds. The film also took longer than any of Back’s previous animations to create, at a whopping 18 months, because of Back’s budget restraints, very small though tight-knit crew, and his attention to detail as an animator in each frame who wished to make his creation, at all times, visually arresting and alluring.
The short film opens to a large valley in a fertile land where children roam the grounds of a small field alongside rabbits, squirrels, birds, and their pet cats. The place is idyllic beyond belief and hearkens back to an imagined time when people lived simply and in harmony with the land (as evidenced by ecologically unharmful water wheels as the only source for power), when mankind could still stomach the mystery of old forests and not destroy them out of need for resources. In a word, when life felt worth living and all things were invested with mystery and human relations to these things were coloured by awe and reverence.
Then, one day, a mysterious figure enters town. Our first impression is that this figure is an adult, which is the first signal or premonition of ill-tidings in this hamlet of children. The man carries with him the accoutrements of civilization: a fancy suit and bow tie, various musical instruments, and a general ‘civilized’ demeanor. All the children are suspect of this man until he begins to woo them with the power of music, then with his magic abilities to transmogrify living flesh into mechanical circuits and joints. The magician throws a rabbit into his hat and when he retrieves it thence, it emerges a robotic thing not unlike the Energizer Bunny. He grabs a bird and throws it into his pack, which then emerges as a toy whistle in the shape of a bird: a lifeless machine meant merely to please others, which has lost its soul in the process.
Like the pied piper, this magician leads the children onward into the hills and shows them many initially delightful and useful technologies like light poles to keep the children and their host of animals safe from wolves at night, or domiciles wherein children can escape the elements in viciously cold winters. However, the project soon elevates itself beyond all sustainability and usefulness as the trees become large gray tenement buildings and factories wherein the children are enslaved to work for the magician. Even the children’s clothing becomes gray as their general aspects darken with malaise and existential dread at the prospect of being divorced from nature, and now even from the products of their labors, which they cannot freely take when needed and must pay for by working to build said products.
But industrial slave labor or wage labor, and alienation from nature and from one’s goods, are not the only unholy elements in this hideous tragedy of modernity’s manners. To make it into the unholy trinity it really is, the magician recognizes the depressed state of the children and introduces the free market, adding unfettered capitalism to the equation, which only further depresses the children. Unlike we in our modern age who are so enamored with cultural objects and processed, mass-marketed experiences, these children were not reared in the system. As such, they are uniquely unaffected by these entertainments and diversion, and instead dream of a renewal, of a return to their idyllic past and to their wholesome homes without the attendant ills of crime, poverty, depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and moral decay in all its vicissitudes.
The children revolt revolt against their magician, which they vastly outnumber as the proletariat. Here, Back recognizes that any progressive, social justice approaches to the problems of society here will not and cannot suffice to restore joy and peace to the social order. This is so, because he recognizes, like Marx before him that social and cultural forces are not the driving elements of society. No, the base is economics and political structure. But in this case, the answer is not to take over the means of production and to instill a more equitable economic situation through the political order (another dead-end of political theory and action in the 20th, and hitherto in the, 21st century). The whole point is to destroy the structure totally (or in Slavoj Zizek’s comedic formulation to not just dust the balls of those in power, but to cut them off) in order to either create a new one from the ground up, which values nature and our role and part in it, as well as equitable and fair living (Because a world in which Billionaires exist at all is one which is sickly and choking on moral decay).
The children, uncorrupted by high-minded political theory and philosophy, recognize one of two options: 1. To remain in the present order and die a slow death of the spirit. Or 2. To destroy the present order and return to one that worked perfectly fine before the new order emerged. Their innocence allows them to not only think in this simplistic, and ultimately effective manner, but also to bind together as a collective of individuals who realize their joy is in communion with one another and not in disassociation as mere cogs in a mechanical political and economic order. They chase out the magician and the illusions of technological progress and achievement (things that may exist beyond our own lives, but will ultimately return to final cosmic ash like all others, and therefore have no more significance than intangible goods like happiness and peace) disappear, revealing the natural order of things beneath the illusion.
Here, animals return and the valley regains is majestic glow as the old order is snuffed out, with a whimper, by virtue of the mere and basic power of belief. In our own world, such a fight would surely lead to bloodshed and violence, but maybe no more than the millions of innocents killed in cold blood by imperialist regimes supported by the capitalist order as in America’s crusade in the Middle East today. And another big difference: if we return to something closer to the ground, we will not find the Earth as it once was before our destructive involvement. We will find it ravaged, pillaged, and raped through nothing more than the will of hoarder-billionaires whose names I need not mention here.
If there really is a hell, at least they’re not going: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ Meaning: It is impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. (But hey, this is only coming from someone who’s read hundreds of texts on biblical studies.)
[Continued here: Taratata]