Since his astronaut mother’s death, Noah has been stuck. He sticks primarily to his dark, isolated apartment, not answering messages and interacting with the world in general. He is sad, lonely and deep in grief.
Noah must move forward eventually. But to do so, he has to both resolve and let go of the profound attachment between him and his mother, once and for all.
Directed and animated by David McShane from a script by Jessica Sinyard, this short animated drama — which was a Cannes festival selection — leverages the unique textures, tones and shapes that animation allows for, creating a uniquely atmospheric and expressionistic exploration of grief, sadness and letting go.
Like many artful short animations, there is little dialogue. But the storytelling is steadily engaging throughout, building up character, world and narrative with attention to nuance. It takes time to build up the lonely life of the son left behind, his dark and quiet apartment punctuated by the melancholic sounds of a music box, the creaks of the floor and furniture and the occasional voicemail message left after an unanswered phone call. The feeling is of profound isolation and loneliness.
These themes and emotions are underscored by a progression in the film’s visual style. The narrative begins with a 3-D stop-motion style, where characters look almost sculpted and carved from wood, with heavy lines and dark, saturated colors. A sense of weight and tactility. along with moody shadows and lights, add to the film’s distinctive visuals and its emotional heaviness.
But as Noah enters into the depths of his inner world, where he wrestles with the depths of his grief and loss, a painterly 2-D style takes over, one that is almost childlike in its simpler shapes and colors. The images and scenarios flow and blend almost surrealistically into one another in almost quicksilver-free association, exploring issues of maternal attachment, death and loss. But when Noah emerges from this deep psychological exploration, he’s able to welcome freedom and light back into his world.
Many short films explore the profoundly lonely terrain of grief and loss, but “Solar Plexus” uses the unique expressive freedom of animation to underscore the internal and almost unconscious process that grief often is. Many animations can turn abstract and sometimes slightly distant in their ability to harness potent symbolism to human emotion. But this narrative never loses sight of the raw feeling of sadness, exploring the deep connection of grief to other emotions and coming to resonant truths.
We feel grief because of the profound love and tenderness in our attachments, and we often hold onto it because we want to remain attached. But by refusing to face loss and let go, we can get stuck — something our loved ones likely never wanted for us. So we let go, perhaps realizing we will never quite lose them and move forward finally into the light.