On Movies: Belly

Coming-of-age stories often sidestep the fact that loss is integral to the experience of adulthood. Perhaps it is easier to explain a young character who experiences a vivid sexual encounter, an ageless child who flies magically, a classroom of boys who write poetry to please their hip father figure of an English teacher, than it is to explain loss. The short, animated film, Belly, examines the fact that growing up means losing your mother.

Directed and animated by Julia Pott (see her YouTube channel or visit her website), Belly tells the story of  brothers Oscar and Alex. When Alex is lost at sea, Oscar’s friend, The Monster, encourages Oscar to go help him. They dive into an ocean full of two-headed birds and fetal porpoises. At the bottom lives the gluttonous whale that has consumed Alex. Oscar and the monster must make their way into the creature to rescue him from the beast’s digestive processes.

Photo of Julia Pott, director and animator of Belly reviewed by Anna Call, carrying a log

Julia Pott, director and animator of Belly.

Though voiced by a male, The Monster is a mother. Not Oscar’s and Alex’s birth mother necessarily—Alex doesn’t even seem to know him well. But Oscar relies on the monster for everything from entertainment to transportation to moral guidance. The Monster soothes him and never rebukes him, even when Oscar hurts him in play. As the dense plot of Belly deepens, The Monster even carries Oscar into the sea, a wet and salty mother-figure itself and a place of difficult truths.

This is where The Monster is separated from Oscar by the fact that the boys can’t survive in the womb-like belly of the whale, the reality that Oscar and Alex must leave the womb and the protection of this mother figure in order to grow up. The Monster fuses with the womb-like whale immediately after pulling Alex out of the lining of the creature’s belly—a deliverance symbolic of birth. Both boys gaze without full comprehension at the new association of the monster with the whale, until the monster sends them away. Belly eventually implies that the monster himself is consumed by the whale.

Viewers will find the separation of maternal care and biological activity interesting here. The Monster is an ideal: freed from the body and blessed with ultimate mobility, it cares for others, and is immaculate. The whale is his polar opposite in every way. It hardly matters whether the whale is meant to represent The Monster’s uterus, the mother’s uterus, or simply the sheer concept of the uterus; knowledge of this engulfing thing is what replaces the monster in importance. The whale-womb is an excellent way to illustrate the well-trod connection between reproduction and death, but Belly takes the usual analogy much further than normal. Once it’s recognized, the uterus is all that matters anymore—it swallows the concept of the mother completely! Oscar and Alex are left to float on completely alone.

Freud would have appreciated Belly. It draws from the Oedipal complex without becoming lurid. And it’s carefully constructed to reference various aspects of the ultimate psychological coming-of-age. While disturbing, Belly stands up to multiple viewings. It’s surreal without being opaque, though it relies heavily on the Oedipal source material for the audience’s comprehension.

Movie fans who are done with heavy-handed Freudian symbolism may find Belly difficult to love. While the interpretation is original, the themes have arguably been done to death. The pessimistic resolution, however,implies a rare unsatisfactory resolution to the complex that gives Bellymore depth than the usual Freudian theme.

Pott, named one of the “25 new faces of independent film” by FILMMAKER magazine in 2012 and a blogger for the Huffington Post, exhibits an excellent understanding of her audience’s point of view. She constructs an immersing experience out of some relatively simple (though beautifully organized) pencil drawings. This was a student work and demonstrates a great deal of skill for that. A visually stimulating trip, it should appeal to aesthetes as well as child psychiatrists. Viewers may find themselves watching multiple times just to take it all in. Isotropic Fiction Dingbat

Anna Call is a librarian and educator. She holds degrees in both creative writing and information science. After working in the private sector for a number of years, she returned to public librarianship in March of 2012. She currently works for a small rural library on the North Shore of the greater Boston area. Her interest in speculative fiction and film is rooted in the work of Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov.

Anna writes for both Isotropic Fiction and The Big Brown Chair. She currently lives in Salem, Massachusetts.

Runtime: 7:30
Director: Julia Pott
Released: November 2011

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