Supermarionation!

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.

Published by

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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