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.