Nancy DeVore, PhD
Independent Researcher, Los Angeles
Mary Gregerson, PhD
Reviews of A Singe Life and The Box
Directors for A Single Life: M. Blaauw, J. Oprins & J. Roggeveen
Director for The Box: D. Kastelic
Short films, like the superhero Superman, strike swiftly, deftly, and decisively. At 20 minutes or less, original short narratives, also known as “shorts,” engage viewers just enough without them committing to feature-length. Will viewers see life differently after three minutes watching A Single Life (Blaauw, Oprins & Roggeveen, 2014; A Single life: https://vimeo.com/225249697)? Will viewers relate differently to others after seeing The Box in just over 12 minutes (Kastelic, 2017;The Box https://vimeo.com/233240506; password: theboxguest)?
Rising popularity for shorts resulted now—finally, after 100 years (Cohl, 1908)—in their own award category at many film festivals. Why? Shorts both entertain and deepen experience. Their incisive psychological impact can shape viewers’ identities and relatedness (Gregerson, 2010). One favorite form of shorts is animation, which has specific psychological impact.
Animation’s recognizable moments and symbols draw in viewers. As a well-known example, many Disney animated classics grip audiences like when baby doe Bambi’s (Hand et al., 1942) mother dying orphans her. Newer animated shorts’ power of perception and symbols provide similar emotional release. However, when original stories are shorts, succinct connection occurs with viewers through unresolved endings or telling uncomfortable truths (Ortner, 2012).
Recent animated shorts trend toward producing mixed viewer effects. That is, they include both viewers’ mood enhancement as a hedonic experience (Zillman, 1988) and a eudemonic effect for awareness of deeper life meanings (Oliver & Bartsch, 2011). Two festival-acclaimed recent short animated films, A Single Life and The Box deep dive decisively into strong currents of psychological thought.
A Single Life. In only 3 minutes this short transports a viewer into a personal contemplation of one’s lifespan. When playing a 45-rpm record that had unexpectedly arrived on a woman’s door step, the needle autonomously hits the record at different points in the song as the wedded animation bops non-chronologically from her experiencing life as an adult, or a child, or an elder. Rich ubiquitous symbolic situations include, but are not limited to: An elder relying upon wheelchair and walker assisted technology for mobility, an adult transforming by holding a baby, a teen ordering delivery pizza, and a young adult transfigured while pregnant. The protagonist, by carefully placing the record needle, poignantly yearns to control where she is in her life. But life, like needle skips, unpredictably happens to her. Such provocative meta-messaging may prove useful when re-purposed for therapeutic awareness and transformation (Gregerson, 2010).
A Single Life deftly transports engaged viewers into social and self-reflection. Universal symbolism allows, ironically, for unique personal significance. Such existential (Frankl, 1946) transportation echoes Maslow’s (1964) peak experience and Csikszentmihalyi’s (2008) flow. A Single Life moves quickly, producing dramatic tension and “ending” with an openness some might find unsettling or existentially provocative.
These creators, Joris, Oprins, and Blaauw, won a German film competition by proposing their concept for A Single Life. The idea for the film came from listening to some records, hearing the needle skip, and questioning whether they had traveled through time or just experienced a simple skip of the record needle. That experience prompted the three to create their short to get people thinking about stages of life. The film intends viewers to “think about mortality and that time is always running out” (Sarto, 2014, para. 26; download the song on Spotify.)
The Box. This short, just over 12 minutes, uses less recognizable symbols than A Single Life. Flat-headed creatures, similar in appearance and expressions, group in a box resembling a room. The arrival of a new young, curious creature with anomalous behavior provokes others to shout at him.
Each scene invites reflection on themes of moral social conduct, self-identity, and agency. The newcomer untangles himself to leave the dreary box. He struggles to find his identity and authenticity within his social context. Gregerson (2010) discussed the proliferation of modern film images that may skew teens away from what Erikson (1998) termed healthy progression through stages of identity, or relatedness to self, and, then, of intimacy or relatedness to others. The entanglement of identity and relatedness with self, others, and time seep out wordlessly and profoundly in these two animated films. Furthermore, Kumar (2017) observed films could indeed serve as a means for social change.
The Box director/producer, Kastelic (2018), discussed his inspiration and the intent of his film. Born and raised in industrial Slovenia, he experienced numerous health problems from unregulated pollution. Amid local activism against local polluting industries, Kastelic had nightmares — in one, he was in a dark place in a crowd with his legs rooted so he could not move. Using this nightmare image, Kastelic applied another of his early comic storylines about flat-headed people encountering a little boy who gets on their nerves. Kastelic articulated the film’s message: “… that you are the one who controls your life! Take your destiny in your own hands” (para. 25).
In addition to winning many 2018 festival shorts awards, The Box, along with other shorts, was selected for viewing by young patients at three Geneva psychiatric hospitals. Amplifying administrators’ approval, patients rated The Box highest among these selected shorts. Both caregivers and care recipients related closely to the film’s identity and social themes. On par with professional critics, one young patient eloquently reflected, “So, I’m probably insane, but I think those flat-headed guys in their box, they represent the normal-thinkers in society, right?” (Kastelic, email communication, October 14, 2018).
The extraordinary creative and aesthetic animated film lens in both A Single Life and The Box certainly dramatizes life movingly even if not authentically. Cinematic animation artists cartoon life to provoke viewers’ thoughtfulness. Viewing the shorts examines prescribed boxes that do not match people’s genuine identity nor real relatedness and invites the viewer to step outside of these boxes.
Actually, many boxes reduce to one box. Clearly defined boundaries may invite, provoke or tempt steps, no matter how teeny, outside that boundary. Is “life” what happens when you step outside the boundaries?
(Note: Explicit permission to print the Vimeo password for The Box has been provided by Dusan Kastelic. For any difficulty viewing The Box, please contact Dr. DeVore, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Hand, D. Algar, J., Armstrong, S., Heid, G., Roberts, B., Satterfield, P. Wright, N. (Directors). (1942). Bambi. Hollywood, CA: Disney Studios.
Blaauw, M., Oprins, J., & Roggeveen, J. (Directors). (2014). A single life. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Job, Joris & Marieke Studio.
Cohl, É. (Director). (1908). Fantasmagorie, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France: Gaumont Film Company and Sociêté des Etablissements L. Caumont. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FQCESiyqaM
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
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Gregerson, M.B. (2010). “The dawning of desire skewed through a media lens and the loss of American adolescence: M I 4 U?” In Gregerson, M. B. (ed.), The cinematic mirror for psychology and life coaching (pp 51-76). New York, NY: Springer.
Kastelic, D. (Director/Producer). (2017). The box. Slovenia: Bugbrain Studio.
Kumar, V. K. (2017; Fall/Winter). From the editor: Films and societal change. The Amplifier Magazine. Retrieved from https://div46amplifier.com/2017/12/18/from-the-editor-films-and-societal-change/
Maslow, A.H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak experiences. London: Penguin Books Limited.
Oliver, M. B., & Bartsch, A. (2011). Appreciation of entertainment: The importance of meaningfulness via virtue and wisdom. Journal of Media Psychology: Theories, Methods, and Applications, 23(1), 29-33.
Ortner, S. B. (2012). Against Hollywood: American independent film as a critical cultural movement. Journal of Ethnographic Theory, 2(2), 1-21.
Sarto, D. (2015, February 9, 2015). Joris talks ‘A Single Life.’ Animation News Network. Retrieved from https://www.awn.com/animationworld/joris-oprins-talks-single-life
The New Current. (2018). Interview with Dusan Kastelic. Retrieved from https://www.thenewcurrent.co.uk/dusan-kastelic
Zillmann, D. (1988). Mood management through communication choices. American Behavioral Scientist, 31(3), 327–340.