It has become tradition on Valentine’s Day for our family to go watch the Oscar-nominated shorts.
Most years we only get around to watching the animated shorts. This year we splurged and watched both the animated and live action shorts.
If you love feeling good, watch this year’s Oscar-nominated animated shorts. If you love to dwell on the terror, horror, and dread of the worst the world contains, watch this year’s Oscar-nominated live action shorts.
If you do watch both, I recommend starting with the live action shorts, so you can cleanse your mental palette by watching the animated shorts afterwards. [Kudos to my husband for recommending we pursue this plan.]
This year the live action shorts were each terribly distressing in their own way. Madre (Mother) shows us the story of a six-year-old boy who is lost on an isolated beach in France through the conversation the boy has on a dying cell phone with his mother in Spain. Fauve (Wildcat) shows us two pre-adolescent boys whose friendly competition leads to dire results. Marguerite shows us a dying woman yearning for loving touch and death with dignity after choosing a loveless traditional marriage over her female friend. Skin shows us a young boy being raised by archetypal gun-toting bigots. Detainment is the one non-fiction piece, dramatizing the 1993 murder of toddler James Bulger by two ten-year-old boys.
Each of these tales comments on how much damage males can do to themselves and those around them (though the damaging man in Marguerite is inferred from her abrupt shutting of the photo album after reaching her marriage picture). The women are sympathetic but largely ineffectual.
The animated shorts, in contrast, were (mostly) little points of hopeful family love. Bao (Dumpling) is the Pixar short that aired before Incredibles II. In addition to being delightful in its own right, Bao represents the first Pixar short directed by a woman. Late Afternoon shows us a woman in late life who has loved. Weekends depicts a young boy who shuttles between the households of his recently divorced parents. One Small Step portrays a girl and her father as she yearns for the stars. Animal Behavior is laugh out loud funny, and the only short that is largely void of family, despite the mantis being depicted as a single mother. When you watch the animated shorts in theaters, you are treated to the shorts that almost made the Oscar cut. Wishing Box involved a pirate and his monkey and is sure to delight those young children lucky enough to get to watch it. Tweet Tweet was a highly symbolic depiction of a Russian woman’s life, told by her loving grandson. We felt that Tweet Tweet deserved an Oscar nod, possibly in lieu of Animal Behavior.
I think these short films reflect the influence of past Oscar winners in their respective categories. The animation Oscar has traditionally gone to a short that made your heart sing. The live action Oscar has traditionally gone to a short that wrings your heart.
As a storyteller, it was striking how many of these films followed the advice of featuring a youthful protagonist. Apparently the “best” selection for a protagonist is a ten-year-old boy, as both males and females can relate to a boy as protagonist, while males typically can’t relate to a young woman as protagonist.
For example, this is why the female director of Bao would have been far less successful if the dumpling had been a female dumpling. Sorry, ladies.
In these tales involving a youthful protagonist, the typical rule is to make the protagonist an orphan. Orphans have a built-in excuse for why adults aren’t shielding them from adventure. Storytellers who focus on orphans don’t have to bother with depicting a rounded parent, much less the mature relationship between two rounded parents.
It was striking how many of these tales involved young people who were singletons and who either had no parent or who had only one parent. The interesting thing here is that it is an adult perception that most children are singletons and most children are raised by bereft or divorced parents. Based on my analysis from a few years ago, most children, in fact, are raised in families with more than two children.
But individuals don’t create films when they are children.
Unfortunately, the artistic depictions of life we see in film and serialized shows influences our sense of what is normal. So even though actual reality is statistically safe and heteronormal and populated with multiple siblings and married parents, the artistic depictions with which we fill too many of our hours will convince us that we are surrounded by danger as solitary beings, whose parents are often absent or struggling alone without a functional partner.
On February 24th we will be glued to our couch, watching to see which fictional or dramatized versions of reality are celebrated in 2019. Based on what is celebrated, we can expect to see future art shaped to imitate that which has been celebrated in the recent past.
We, then, will see this celebrated sort of art filter down through the other media we are presented with. Not only do studios want to be edgy and successful, actors and directors want to be seen as working on “meaningful” pieces that buck the traditional and simplified patriarchy of the past.
Let me leave you with this thought: if God were giving parental advice in scripture today, God would likely encourage parents to be wise consumers of media, learning to deconstruct the messages shoveled into their homes at the speed of light, teaching their children to examine the source of their information and media-informed perceptions.
This skill, of being able to consume (or avoid) media intelligently, will likely be more important to us and our children than yesterday’s skill of avoiding infection or our forebears’ skil in avoiding poisonous or spoilt food.