“ANIMALS” (Miami International Film Festival Review)
Pol, the seventeen year-old protagonist of the fantastical and beguiling supernatural coming-of-age film ANIMALS, sits entranced in a darkened classroom as his teacher and a mysterious new transfer student debate a slide of Francisco Goya’s famous etching “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters.”
To the teacher, the image of Goya face down on his desk surrounded by menacing owls, bats, and a cat straight out of Greek mythology central casting is all metaphor—primarily “fear of death,” as one might expect. The student, however, sees it differently: “Who is to say Goya didn’t actually see those things,” he says, “even if no one else did?”
“C’mon, it’s imagination,” the teacher replies. “Imagination is a human construct. It’s a product of our reason, not an entity.”
For Pol, this exchange carries more weight than for either of its active participants, in no small part because his closest friend is a walking, talking, rock n’ roll drumming (!), deep thinking (and, it should be noted, brilliantly animated) teddy bear, Deerhoof.
Ironically, the introduction of the etching is in and of itself a clever metaphor, since Goya’s own unmentioned epigraph for the piece—“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels”—actually strikes at the heart of the quandary Pol faces: Is Deerhoof an “impossible monster,” produced by Pol’s abandonment of reason and facilitating the very feelings of isolation and despair he turns to the bear to help alleviate? Or is this unconventional companion a secret, marvelous gift from the universe that will be destroyed, along with any potential salvation, by the extinguishment of his fantasy?
As Pol wades through the various implications and conundrums of perception, Deerhoof himself exhibits a certain ambiguity of intent/purpose. Discussing a comic book storyline during a walk in the woods early in the film the bear tells Pol, “I would die for you, dude,” but also lets slip, “I like it when characters have to deal with the limits of their desires”—the former avers an intimate bond; the latter could be read as an almost detached omniscient contextualization of a struggle Pol is forced to experience.
Spanish director Marçal Forés does an exquisite job of bringing to life this frequently dream-like surrealist portrait of a dissociative, arduous search for inner peace—so much so that one feels almost as invested in Deerhoof’s ultimate fate as Pol’s. Nevertheless, as the threads of other storylines and narrative asides are interwoven and channeled toward conclusion we become aware that the many profound questions ANIMALS delves into will not be definitely answered here, yet the dénouement remains equally satisfying and heartrending, lovely and challenging.