What’s that riding on your everything? It isn’t anything at all.
Modest Mouse “Gravity Rides Everything”
Children. Animals. They are lovely creatures. We enjoying admiring them, and they never fail to interest us. Both children and animals seem to follow their instincts and act as they wish. At the same time, it seems as though they are not always conscious of their own behavior and sometimes make silly mistakes. They are unlike adults, who are conscious of their behavior. They are free but only to a certain extent, because they are not completely aware of their situation. This is the reason we find them attractive.
The world of Ivan Maximov is replete with children and animals. According to Ivan Maximov, each of the characters in his films has a spirit of children aged between two and five. They are also free, but only to a certain extent. And we find them lovely.
Children are inherently anti-conformists. They are not concerned with the rules established by society. In Provincial School (1990), each of the characters is absorbed in their own play in the break time. Even when the mathematics class begins, they pay attention to only what they want and laugh heartily when the teacher fails to answer a very difficult (for them) question: 2 x 2.
This denial of “2 x 2 = 4” reminds us of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. The protagonist who locks himself in a basement persistently insists on the existence of the power of anti-reason. He says that humans are not always conscious of or calculate their benefits. They sometimes make choices that lead them to a destructive end. By this, he wishes to say that there exists a power in us that cannot be conquered by consciousness or reason. Children and animals embody such power. Their movements are not calculated, and their behaviors do not always follow will or reason.
Perhaps, they are not only anti-social but also unsocial. Why do they resist social rules? This may be because they are not aware of the rules. Thus, their freedom is not complete. They are easily influenced by the power of the unexpected. Since their consciousness is very limited, they are unable to deal with different situations. Although they can ignore the established rules, sometimes they have to forcibly follow another rule. In From Left to Right (1989), the characters are moving from left to right; however, they do not seem to be aware of the reason why they do so. They simply react to something intuitively. In Bolero (1992), a long-tailed animal follows its own tail without realizing it. In 5/4 (1990), the protagonist unconsciously dances in the air in tune with the music. Even in Provincial School, the children follow the chime that indicates the beginning of a class. They rush to their classrooms without thinking twice. Although they act freely, at the same time, they are not aware of the existence of the power that controls them. Their world lies in the realm of what they can perceive; they disregard anything beyond their perception. In light of this, is it right to say that they are truly free? This question sometimes renders Maximov’s films as frightening.
But maybe adults also face the same situations as children do. This is another reason why Maximov’s films are sometimes frightening. Tonnelage (2005) is a particularly suggestive film. The story is set in a prison and has two protagonists. One is a new prisoner and the other is an old one. While the former persistently tries to escape, the latter stays in the prison—engaging in activities such as reading the newspaper—as though he is comfortable in his situation. The fact that he is imprisoned does not disturb him, perhaps because he has accepted it and also because it exceeds the realm of his control. He feels free, but not completely.
If one wants to escape from the place he/she is in, one should consider what lies outside. Since the new prisoner yearns for the world outside jail, his attempt to escape succeeds after many challenges. But the reason why he manages to escape remains unclear. He was unable to find a breakthrough and his last attempt was the same as the previous ones. Thus, it is difficult to explain how he escaped (or even why he was imprisoned).
Like the characters of Maximov, we also abide by the dictates of some unknown force. We are free only to a certain degree. We see the characters in Maximov’s film in ourselves. Although we always have to obey the power of gravity, we rarely recognize it. We have to die someday; however, we fully realize this fate when, for example, someone very close to us passes away.
Maybe, we are all tied to strings, just like the characters in Strings (1996). We do not know where the other end of a string leads, and because it perpetually exists, we tend to easily take it for granted. However, sometimes, the center of a string becomes entangled with nails that protrude from the ground and we fall down. This is when we remember the existence of the strings. We easily forget their existence, but we can never escape them. Since we do not know why the strings exist, we cannot change anything about them.
This can lead us to have a tragic conception about life, but let’s not forget that there is a humorous element in the Ivan Maximov’s characters even though they are overpowered by a potent force. What could be the possible reasons for this? Maybe we should perhaps consider a quote by Chaplin: “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Maximov seems to shoot his world in long-shot. In other words, he appears to depict the relationship between the characters and the world around them.
Considering this viewpoint, his recent series called “Cohabitation with Whimsical Nature” is of particular interest. In Wind Along the Coast (2004), the wind blows. In Rain Down from Above (2007), it rains. The characters are blown by the wind or get carried away in the floods due to heavy rains. They cannot resist these external forces of nature. However, in these films remains an element of humor.
Animation is essentially a resistance of the laws of nature. Gravity succeeds by the force of one’s will. For example, Wile E. Coyote falls from a cliff only when he realizes that he is running in the air. Of course, one can keep running even after realizing it. Animation is a media of anti-gravity. One is free to turn on and turn off the switch of gravity according to one’s will.
However, in the case of Maximov’s Rain Down from Above, when the rain falls from the sky and the carrot grows rapidly, the rabbit-like character jumps with joy because of the growth of the carrot. However, when the carrot grows in excess and destroys the cliff, the rabbit mercilessly falls in the river due to the force of gravity, as in the world we live in.
If we cannot resist something, let’s accept it. What makes “Cohabitation with Whimsical Nature” very unique is its lack of resistance. The characters are carried away by the wind or floods, and gravity rides on them. But there is no tragedy. The characters seem to be part of nature and what we see in the long-shot of Maximov is a friendly relationship between the characters and the nature around them. A girl appears in the beginning of The Spete (2004). She is alone in her own room, and without reason, she swings her legs while sitting on a chair. In her movement I found something similar to the scene in which many nails are blown by the wind in Strings. They seem to conform to the law of nature rather than to the animator’s will. In Wind Along the Coast, the girl falls from the bed to the floor and turns her body around. Her falling conforms to the forces of gravity. It cannot be affected by any action of consciousness. With the power of gravity, she can fall and turn her body around comfortably. Her body instinctively reacts to the power that reaches her. She seems to be playing with the strings of gravity. The best part of Maximov’s work comes when the characters completely become a part of nature. It expresses the joy of living in this world.
We easily forget that we are a part of the nature and should abide by the laws of nature. We are free, but only to a certain extent. We are all tied to the strings of gravity. We cannot escape from it. However, if we acknowledge this fact by watching this world in long-shot, it will be possible to get along with these strings, like the girl who moves comfortably in her world. Humans. We can be lovely creatures, too.
© Ivan Maximov 18 Mar 2009 01:16 am