Beautiful design and messy emotions make a sumptuous pairing in Eusong Lee’s piece of celestial fanfic, My Moon, the latest work from the gifted animator previously featured for his Student Academy Award winner Will. The dark and brooding Moon spends his evenings in rapturous embrace with Earth, only to see her enthusiastically rush to the arms of the awaiting Sun come morning. It’s a fraught dynamic that is potentially calamitous for humanity should the delicate balance be disrupted.
Lee plays with the raw materials of creation myths, but updates them for our modern technological age of remote communication and social disconnect. A visual treat, the animation itself is the initial draw—Lee’s style discovers this pleasing point between abstract minimalism and mograph maximalism, and the result is intoxicating. It’s also a perfect pairing thematically for his massive subjects whom he anthropomorphizes, and whose relations he narrativizes. To make his subjects human-like was a late decision in Lee’s creative process, initially they possessed their familiar spheres, and so the design must walk the fine line of making them relatable but not too specific in order to maintain their universality. To my mind Lee succeeds wildly, and My Moon should undoubtedly be placed on the shortlist of the year’s most beautiful animations.
But design aside, Lee’s defining skill throughout his young career has been to marry nostalgic melancholy to his pristine art and My Moon delivers on this front as well. Classical myths work by ascribing human qualities to the blankness of the cosmos, and Lee’s choice to craft a love triangle out of the heavenly bodies is certainly interesting. In doing so he taps into familiar archetypes—Earth, the fair maiden, is open, genuine, and guileless. Sun is enormous and ebullient. Life-giving, he overwhelms with his warmth. Moon is the main protagonist however, and it is his internal conflict that drives the plot. Draped in his cloak he is a romantic hero of dramatic intensity, but is also the extraneous partner—he is a satellite of Earth, she is his everything, but he cannot fulfill a similar role in her life. Cool, yet wounded, deep, but brusque, he reminded me of famous conceptual characters from fantasy like Dream from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, or the character of Winter from Naomi Novik’s excellent new novel Spinning Silver. Of course love triangles between opposing personality types have themselves an enormous cultural footprint, from the classics (Wuthering Heights), to the pulp (the beloved shoujo mangas of my youth).
Adding to the wistfulness of the film’s arrangement is the nature of the character’s communications. They do not speak to each other, at least not directly. Instead they snatch dialogue pulled out of radio programs, television shows, and lovers’ phone calls in a patchwork arrangement. The conceit is that the celestial bodies are incapable of direct communication but through the chatter we humans constantly put out into space via the airwaves they are able piece together thoughts. It’s a fascinating concept, and works thematically with the film—there is something heart-wrenching to the disembodied dialogue, and the multitudinous voices featured, that amplifies this feel of disconnection that both illustrates Moon’s despair, but also feeds into a general sense of technological pessimism. Naturally it helps supports Lee’s wish to not personify his characters too greatly and maintain some sort of abstract remove, but it also is just fitting—the difficulty to find words for complex emotions that, even with perfect diction, may be too difficult to express.
Those feelings thus fail to receive full articulation and present some ambiguity for the audience to respond to. Lee, in communication with us, mentions that he has found it amusing to witness audience reactions to the film. Some are furious with Earth for engaging in polyamory for example, and pity Moon. I do think that is an altogether reasonable reaction to have to the film, but probably not quite what Lee is aiming to communicate. Lee is expressing something more personal and yet universalistic. As he explains to us, “Often I felt like I gain different emotional values from different friends and community. Some people give me inspiration, romance, and the fantasy. Some people offers care, nurturance and warmth. Just like how Sun gives a light that determines life and death of the Earth and Moon holds more emotional and fantastical qualities to humanity.”
Earth’s feelings for Moon are genuine. So is her joy and need of Sun. Embedded in Lee’s statement is, to me, a critique: it’s not right to monopolize people. To make them your everything and expect the same in return. Moon is not the self-righteous hero of the film, and it is only when he is able to put aside his jealousy and accept the authenticity of Earth’s feelings and the unique joy of their relationship that crisis is averted. Is that arrangement wholly satisfying? Perhaps not, but it is true.
Funded in part via a successful Kickstarter campaign, and co-produced by Sarah Kambara and the boutique LA animation studio Chromosphere (known to us for its collabs with Oscar-winner John Kahrs), we are pleased to present the online premiere of My Moon today. While we hadn’t heard much from Lee since his 2012 student short, projects should be coming at a much quicker pace now as he has fully established himself as a rising star. Lee shared with us that his upcoming work includes a shorts series at Shadow Machine (Bojack Horseman), and a role as art director for a VR short at Baobab, as well as a show-runner role lined-up for a new Netflix series.