Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Rethinking The Little Island

I've been thinking about it all day, and I've decided that I was too hard on The Little Island. Yes, parts of it run too long, and it doesn't always make sense, but it does convey a decent story if you stick with it. And the animation is fantastic, especially when you think about the fact that Richard Williams animated the entire thing himself. I've heard it took him three years to do it.
But most of what made me change my mind was the characters. Without any dialogue at all (except for some implied lines at the beginning), Williams created three very definite personalities. Truth, the underappreciated oddball science wonk, Beauty, the pompous narcissist (who is also the only bald character, btw), and Good, virtuous and simple, but with a temper.

I get the feeling that this is a film that everyone interprets differently, but this is the way it appears to me:
The three men, besides being symbols, are co-workers who decide, for whatever reason, to go on vacation together to the small island of the title. They don't know each other outside of work, so they use their time on the island to get to know each other, or rather, to force their beliefs on the others. Truth's motives are pure; he simply wants to share his thought processes with the other two, but goes a little too deep into his own psyche. I see his sequence as attempting to explain some kind of technical process to the others, either science or math-like, but Truth lacks the ability to put it in terms the others can understand, so they just shrug him off at the end. Also, note the foreshadowing of the nucleus at the end of his sequence. I think I said this before, but I just love his sheepish smile at the end, a little "Yeah, that probably didn't make sense."
Beauty shares his thoughts out of ego, to show that "this is how it should be done" to the others. Plus, his is the only process to have a punchline (the million torso frames), which means that this is probably a story he shares often, repeating what he obviously considers to be a very clever little joke. When the other two shrug at the end of his sequence, it's because they've heard that story (and the pedestal one) from him a million times, even if he didn't tell it to them directly.
Good seems to share his thoughts only because the other two have. "Oh hey, that reminds me!" His is a more historical story, covering the early history of the church before becoming autobiographical and ending with his thoughts on the arms race, as well as a broken heart. His is the only sequence not to get a shrug, perhaps because the last part was so unexpected from him, seeing as he started off by proclaiming his love of humanity.
(I still don't really get why this has to take place over days, though.)
The first fight between Good and Beauty starts when Beauty starts harping on the same things he already talked about before, and Good, having already heard it, tries to ignore him (most likely Beauty is talking about something that Good just cannot agree with) by talking about religion again. Truth, caught in the middle, doesn't like the fact that no one bothers to try and understand what he talks about, but the three inexplicably stop. Later, Beauty starts up again, this time purposefully needling the others, but Good in particular (Truth knows this and watches to see what Good will do). Beauty even has the gall to look innocent while doing it, enraging Good enough to bring up politics, which Beauty is not prepared for at first, but quickly comes up with an argument that enables him to dodge the debates Good throws at him, and even turns those debates against him (represented by him spearing Good's soldiers and then using them to play his harp). Truth,either feeling above the others' petty arguments or annoyed at being left out of the conversation, begins to plot some vengeance against the other two, represented by the snake (yes, I looked that up on wikipedia), but before he can act out, the three are once again taken out of their debate for no apparent reason.
Good, disgruntled at Beauty for using his arguments against him, thinks only of punching in the other fellow's face. However, his conscience, or morality, or what have you, represented by the giant fist, prevents him from acting on it; no matter how much he may want to punch out Beauty's lights, he morally cannot. Beauty, thinking only of himself, shoots a barb at Good's so-called morality, a sort of logical blow that renders Good's argument for it obsolete. At first horrified and a little scared at having his moral columns destroyed, Good realizes that this leaves him free to act out against Beauty, who continues, nonchalantly, to be a pompous jerk and needle Good. Good, no longer bound by his conscience, gets Beauty right where it hurts: he points out Beauty's physical imperfections, ending with his baldness (by plucking out his feather), and Beauty is finally put in his place.
After getting over the initial shock of being confronted with his flaws, Beauty rebounds and becomes just as ugly and Good said he was, preparing for the face-off to end all face-offs. It doesn't matter what it's about, neither one is going to budge an inch in their beliefs, nor will either one give up until they prove they are the victor. Meanwhile, Truth has been plotting his revenge on the other two for both ignoring and belittling him, and he sets out to create an utterly infallible argument using the media he knows best: science! Unaware of what is about to ensue, Beauty and Good continue to fight, each one merely matching the other, point after point after point (the rivets). Truth, his thoughts above the mundane things Beauty and Good discuss, calmly creates a mathematical theorem that grows more and more complex, as he creates it for himself, leaving the others behind. Strangely, his formula ends up showing that three of them are equal. Equality does not come without a price, however, as the only way to bring them all back down to earth (as it were) is to destroy what they have become. Hence the bomb. This is an unpleasant process, and all three quail at the thought of it, but they don't try to avoid it. Once it is over, they realize that they cannot continue on as they had on the island, and go back to their regular lives, hoping to put the entire incident out of their minds for good.

I didn't really mean to go on like that, but it was kind of fun. I don't really like how I ended, but it's hard to interpret a bomb outside of what's literally happening with it, y'know?

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