One good thing about being ill (only slightly, just a vir­us I picked up at Eastercon) is that you sit around fuss­ing about all the things you could do were you not ill, not­with­stand­ing that this is non­sense for a per­son like me, who is lazy day-in day-out. But I did remem­ber a movie that I had watched on my laptop while hol­i­day­ing in France. I wanted to blog about it, so, now that I am slightly recovered, here goes.

Strings is a film from 2004 that fea­tures mari­on­ettes — you know, pup­pets with strings. It’s a some­what epic fantasy with over­tones of Star Wars and The Lion King that con­cerns a young prince and his battle to recap­ture the usurped king­dom of his fath­er. If this story had been presen­ted in the form of a car­toon, or a nov­el, the reac­tion would prob­ably be, “OK; a fairly well-struc­tured fantasy story, nowt spe­cial.” But the writer/director Anders Rønnow Klarlund chose mari­on­ettes. These mari­on­ettes are — wait for it — aware of their strings.

Let’s just think about that. The mari­on­ettes are real char­ac­ters in a harsh world, striv­ing for fam­ily and honour…and yet they see strings flow­ing from their wrists, shoulders, legs, and head. The strings con­tin­ue up until they dis­ap­pear into the clouds.

For me — whose fic­tion thus-far has tried to wrestle with free will a little bit — this seems the most per­fect meta­phor for the con­fu­sion of iden­tity that res­ults from even super­fi­cial think­ing about the possibility/impossibility of voli­tion. The mari­on­ettes reach for a cup because their strings dir­ect them to. They look into the sky because their cheek strings have been tugged. What oper­ates the strings? God? Their soul? An inan­im­ate some­thing? Like humans, the mari­on­ettes only con­sider these prob­lems briefly, per­haps at moments of dis­tress, and they end their days with the mys­tery unsolved.

This beau­ti­ful film waxes quite lyr­ic­al on the implic­a­tions of these strings. A fath­er cre­ates his son from the best wood he can afford — dif­fer­ent woods have dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties, of course. The mother’s strings split in two and feel for the inan­im­ate child; they insinu­ate into the holes through­out the body and, with a tug, the child awakes. And how can a mari­on­ette be injured? Simple: you cut one of her strings. This is the basis of unarmed com­bat in the world of Strings. Lose a string on your wrist and the hand will nev­er move again; cut the head string and you’re dead.

Almost as astound­ing as the film is the doc­u­ment­ary that accom­pan­ied it on the DVD. The movie took years to make, and involved an army of pup­pet­eers who were worked to the point of exhaus­tion.

It’s a great, quirky, ori­gin­al film (those crazy Danes!), and highly recom­men­ded.

Don’t get tangled.

Hocking out.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

4 thoughts on “Supermarionation!”

  1. I caught this in the cinema when it had its too-lim­ited release and thought it was a beau­ti­ful piece of work. It took me a few minutes to work out why the build­ings had no roofs to them, the char­ac­ter stand­ing inside but with rain run­ning art­fully down his face. At first I thought this was purely mis-en-scene, then real­ised it was a con­di­tion of this world — people with strings can’t live in houses with roofs. Likewise the pris­on, where the bars are on the roof rather than the walls, to restrict the move­ment of the prisoner’s strings.

    Much as I love some good CGI anim­a­tion it is nice to see people still using tra­di­tion­al crafts like pup­petry as well as clay­ma­tion and old-fash­ioned drawn art to make films.

  2. You’re right, Joe. I also remem­ber see­ing it advert­ised, but it nev­er appeared near me (in the south west of England we’re a bit left out of these things). I’m cer­tain that I would have loved it as a child — I guess it didn’t get the mar­ket­ing kick it deserved. That’s a shame.

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