There are rays of sunshine emanating from California that are beaming over the online video world. Streams of new animated shorts have been quickly arriving to virtual inboxes heralding the arrival of the year end CalArts projects. I’ve been watching many of these films, and want to highlight what to me is easily the standout of this year’s crop. Unlike many of its brethren, this film is not full of sunshine however, it is deeply sad. Graduating student Eusong Lee has created a 9/11 story, and it is a tearjerker—a deeply moving piece that is as devastating as it is beautiful. Using exquisite art direction and brilliant sound to heighten an already emotional subject, will is a tender, indeed heartbreaking, treatise on love, longing and loss.
It is a parent/child story, bookended by voicemail messages. In the chaos between the first World Trade Center crash and the second, a father wishes to connect with his daughter. Looking back over clippings of the disaster, a scrapbook of rememberence, the daughter wishes to turn back time. It is not strictly speaking a factual tale, yet, is there any doubt that among the thousands that lost their lives and for their families left behind that the story dramatized is ”true”?
The film revolves around a central metaphor, the girl playing with a yo-yo given to her by dad. The falling of yo-yo mirrors her father falling out the window of the tower. A yo-yo however, can be pulled back up. If only her father’s circumstances were the same. Into her imagination she retreats: the rising yo yo peeling back time, his morning routine in reverse until she can be safe in his arms again.
Reverse time is not a new trick, Coldplay’s The Scientist video might be most famous to use it in an extended way, but to pair the technique it with circumstances so dramatic is bold and effective. Overall Song’s juggling of time is exceptional. He uses a stellar match-on-action cut to transition between the present day and the flashback to the father from that morning. Color is also employed effectively to differentiate between the two timelines: burnt orange tones for the father, reflective of his fiery conclusion, cool greens and browns for the daughter.
Animated in a trendy minimalism, this decision helps the film greatly as well. In the ten year’s since 9/11 there has been much written about the lack of great art born from the disaster. I feel it is difficult for narrative artists to touch on both the specificity of the event and it’s overwhelming magnitude. But the less specificity in representation, the more empathy a drawing is able to engender. A story about a single girl, the film nonetheless feels more universal than that.
In a final note, the sound, designed by Paul Fraser and music performed by Julian Kleiss, is exceptional. Spare, like, the animation, they complement the film well. The most obvious and effective element however is the otherworldly, high pitched sounds that come in during the film’s second half. A simple audio trick of playing sound in reverse, they mirror the action of the film perfectly, as well as well as the inhuman power it would take to move the world backward. An impossible wish, but one wish the girl can’t be blamed for envisioning all the same.