“Of course all films are surrealist. They are making something that looks like the real world but isn't.” - Michael Powell
For Movie Monday today, an interesting and different movie made in 2005, McKean’s “MirrorMask”, which it is an example of art crossing barriers and creating a piece that is visually stunning, intellectually stimulating and working on multiple levels. The film is directed by Dave McKean who also wrote the story, in collaboration with Neil Gaiman. Dave McKean is a very talented man - artist, writer, sculptor, director, photographer, musician, etc, etc.
It is not surprising therefore that MirrorMask is a wonderful visual feast, with an engaging story and a well-executed, surrealistic feel to it. It was made by Jim Henson Productions, and if you have seen “The Dark Crystal”, “Labyrinth”, and “Jim Henson’s The Storyteller”, you would know the genre that this film falls into. However, having seen these films, I can also say that this film is similar to, but nothing like them.
The story is simple when viewed superficially. A coming of age plot with the usual conflicts between generations, a girl on the verge of becoming a woman and having to cope with guilt, while trying to define herself as a person and attaining independence while maintaining ties with the people whom she loves - her family.
Now that I have said all of that, let me take a few steps back and note that the majority of the film is a quasi-dream sequence where the young heroine is struggling with forces of good and evil, is attempting to save a world and its ruler, while all the while trying to assert her personality and wanting to make the right choices about her life and future.
The film has several important references to previous works and carries within the sprouts of the seeds of other creators’ ideas. Yes, there is an element of Alice in Wonderland in the film, but at the same time there is something of Oedipus and Greek tragedy in it. There is an obvious homage to the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” created by Salvador Dalí, but also I found the work replete with the dark imagery of Odilon Redon’s graphic works.
The whole film has a visual gorgeousness that I found similar to gorging myself with dark chocolate bon-bons filled with rich liqueur. In a strange way it also reminded me of Jostein Gaarder’s book “Sophie’s World”, although it had nothing to do with it! I am sure that on viewing the film again many more allusions to existing works, artists, directors, books, etc, will spring to mind, but on first viewing I was too busy relishing the colour and images to concentrate excessively on analysing the film too much.
The computer graphics that the film uses to good effect are varied in style and form a patchwork effect that is interspersed with live action and liberal portions of Dave McKean’s graphic art that I found enchanting. Some of the black and white sketches that are highlighted in the film are beautiful and are so in tune with the film and the story.
I would recommend this film to anybody who is interested not only in the fantasy genre, but also in animation, computer graphics, mixed media, sketching, and art more generally. Although the film would appeal very much to children and adolescents, there is a lot in it for adults too.