Jan Svankmajer
Darkness Light Darkness
Medium: short film
Year: 1990
Writer/director: Jan Svankmajer
Keywords: animation
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Format: 6 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0098481
Website category: Foreign language
Review date: 20 November 2013
The first time you watch it, you'll go, "Wow, making a human being!" The second time, you'll notice how much work those body parts put in to pull themselves together, plus of course the unhappy end point.
It's a sort of Frankenstein evolution. Body parts gradually find each other and at each stage make the best available approximation to a human. This is cool to look at and could even be called witty, in an absurdist Svankmajer-ish way. Imagine a six-year-old's drawings. Hands grow directly from the head. Eyeballs plug themselves into the ends of fingers to make the snail-like eyestalks of a crab creature.
This is mostly done in Svankmajer claymation, but that great lolling tongue is actual meat. There are also glass eyeballs and false teeth.
That's awesome on the simple level of eyeball kicks. However at the same time, Svankmajer gives most of these body parts its own personality and its own way of coming into the room to join the others. They're not just dead clay. They have their own life and they were clearly busy, energetic entities before they all decided it would be fun to be human. For instance, the ears are butterflies and have to be pulled apart to be attached to the head. (Or the hands. Or whatever.) They flutter at the window and fly around the lamp when they're allowed in. The nose is more like a pig's snout, snuffling. The penis is a boorish monster that batters on the door and needs dousing with cold water.
Was it a good idea to become human? Did it improve their existences? Look at the uncomfortable situation our self-made man is in at the end, with his only available choice (or so he thinks) being to turn off the light. Darkness light darkness. Like the Book of Genesis, but with a loop back to the beginning.
You could see this film through all kinds of readings. A criticism of civilisation? A dissection of the nature of a man? You could choose to see it as caustic, funny or both. However at the same time, it's also offering simply enjoyment of the possibilities that come with animation, clay and a mindset that likes turning the world inside-out. It's innocently playful in its surrealism. Dr Moreau would be proud. It's silly like a Looney Tunes cartoon, but with Svankmajer's outlook on the world. Recommended, although of course that's always the case with Svankmajer. I'd expect children to particularly enjoy this one.