All These Creatures
ALL THESE CREATURES | Breaking down of the mythical position of the parent
A person’s way of living is shaped in the earliest stages of life by observing the behaviour and actions of their parents. A child often creates a mythical character for their parents that is based on the unconditional love and care that they get. There is an expectation that the parent faces, to be the guardian of the vulnerability and sensitivity of the child, to create an environment where the child is safe and to teach them the difference between right and wrong. All These Creatures (2018) questions the mythical character of the parent. The film poses issues about the changing dynamics between child and parent based on the effects of a mental disorder. It focuses on the father Mal and his son Tempest, posing questions about what happens when the father who raised you changes radically without you being able to stop it.
The choice of style in this film feels extremely personal as it enables us as spectators to become part of the riddle inside of Tempest’s head, looking back on the memories he has of his father, sorting and grouping them in order to make sense of what is going on in his mind. There is a feeling of painfulness present in the sense that it shows the breaking ties between father and son. Glimpses of the father Tempest once knew are shown in the images and heard in his utterances, but there is also the constant uncertainty and fragility of Mal’s sanity as he moves towards the inevitable path to destruction.
The style of the film carries this with the use of a two-act structure: the first part represents Tempest’s feelings on the changing dynamics in his family, ‘like we were all underwater, living at the bottom of the ocean’. The spectator becomes part of the bubble Tempest lives in, pushing himself to understand his father’s emotions and actions. The first part is also poetic in the sense of how it approaches Mal’s mental disorder, symbolizing it with all the creatures living in the garden, their loudness serving as a metaphor for the brutal and intense volatility of Mal, but also as a warning of what is coming: there is no concrete nor clear reason for the illness brewing inside of Mal’s head, but all the different bugs in the garden seem to resemble all the different parts within Mal that seem out of balance, speaking to him from someplace unknown. Their loudness is a warning for the inevitable, the finish line the film is steering upon. Smokey slow-motion shots, the use of 16 mm film and the blue and purple palette of colours give this first part of the film a raw, spiritual and ethereal kind of feel that gives the spectator an embodied experience based on a dream-like state.
The second part of the film is more straightforward and direct, showing the determining moment where Mal seems to have reached his limits, followed by his inevitable destruction. In a way, the film feels like Mal is part of a theatrical dance that resembles Swan Lake, a kind of poetically aestheticized destruction carried by the style of the film. Tempest desperately tries to become included, in order to understand and help his father. In the process, he experiences a feeling of powerlessness. The scene in the car shows exactly the two sides of the spectrum he is torn between: going along with his father’s words, telling him not to trust the people around him. Or, accepting the fact that there might be no way back from the point where Mal’s mental disorder completely and irreversibly takes over. Tempest here represents the trembling positions of the ones standing in close connection to the ones suffering from a mental disorder and that is exactly what this film tries to communicate. The film makes the determinative choice for Tempest: after hitting a dog on the road, Mal leaves him behind on the streets and later drives his car into a river.
The film is painful, fragile and raw, just like the mentally unstable mind itself can be. It doesn’t offer any concrete answers or solutions on the subject, but rather enables an embodied experience for the spectator on what it feels like for a child to be part of the brutal and immediate breaking down of the mythical position of the parent.
Janine de Swart is currently doing a Master in Film and Photography at Leiden University and was our intern for Leiden Shorts 2021.