A young wife experiences excruciating abdominal pains, but her doctor doesn’t take her complaints seriously. Her own husband seems distracted by his strange obsession with capturing a snake, widening a gulf between the couple, even as they hope to start a family soon.
But when her husband’s captured snake breaks out, it disappears into their shared home, seeming to escalate the wife’s gastric distress. Feeling increasingly invisible in the world, she seeks out relief, but as her attempts continue to fail, she struggles to find an answer to what ails her.
Writer-director-animator Song E. Kim’s Sundance-featured short animation uses the detailing possible with its style of line-heavy drawing to capture an alienated, isolating world that characters drift in and out of, wrapped up in their own concerns. Its slightly distorted way of portraying human characters also captures how the wife turns and twists in upon herself as she grows more and more apart from the people in her life, which includes an intrusive sister and a doctor who seems to barely notice his patient at all.
The storytelling exists solidly within a subgenre of domestic dramas examining marital or familial discontent — of people who are supposed to be connected and yet are not, and whose disconnection makes them feel lonelier than ever. Both the main characters of the story are searching for something elusive, whether it’s truth, meaning or connection, and can’t seem to walk alongside one another in their quests.
Instead, they are both alone in their existential journeys, lost in a world that seems both empty and overwhelming. This world is constructed not just in the animation style, but also with a rich, almost dense sound design. Though there’s little dialogue, the sound of the world is full, even bustling, which offers a contrast between the spare, minimal lines of the visual style. The discordant, ominous musical score also adds to the film’s emotional register and escalates as the wife comes to realize just how far her husband is from her psychologically.
The couple is connected, though, by the evocative symbolism allowed for by animation, particularly in the form of the snake, which here often appears foreboding and unpredictable as it appears throughout the film. As the wife becomes even lonelier and more wracked with pain, the film takes a turn towards the surreal — and the snake and the wife become intertwined as she faces the depth of her aloneness in the world and her marriage.
“Bite of the Tail” is modern in look, ancient in its symbolism and relatable in its evocation of how we feel alone, even when we are surrounded by the people we love. Serpents are symbols of wisdom, healing and transformation, and of course, a snake biting its own tail is an ouroboros, which represents eternity and continual renewal of life. The complex unraveling of this symbol at the film’s end and the emotional low point actually may offer a flicker of hope for the husband and wife — although how it may play out remains ambiguous, as are most of life’s difficult realizations and transitions.