How many vivid memories do you have of your childhood?
Speaking for myself, I remember a hazy mix of random and meaningful moments, reminiscent of a discontinuous montage.
Two recent movies delve into this phenomenon of adolescent forgetfulness: C’mon C’mon and Flee.
Near the end of the former, Joaquin Phoenix’s character bemoans how little his nephew will remember of their time together, especially compared to Phoenix, for whom it will be among his most cherished memories to last a lifetime. To curb this possibility, Phoenix’s character utilizes his go-to means of expression — the documentary form — to record for his nephew’s posterity as many details of their time together as possible. This recording will fill in the inevitable gaps in the kid’s memory, AND it will act as a snapshot of who his uncle was when he helped raise him. If we can’t remember everything about our formative years, then how can we really come to terms with who they formed us into?
Flee digs even deeper into this dichotomy; what happens when our formative years are defined by traumatic formlessness? As a lifelong refugee forced to flee his homeland at a tragically young age, the main character was never given the privilege of being able to form himself separate from his upbringing of total chaos. How can he know who he is if who he is has been perpetually shapeshifting according to his constantly on-the-move immigrant life? Who we become is a product of who and where we come from; if both are thrown into disarray from the get-go, how can we make sense of who we are?
Flee shares C’mon C’mon’s answer: through documentation. Instead of allowing the cracks in his memory to splinter beyond recognition, Flee’s main character agreed to sit down with a documentary crew to try to fill in these possibly-repressed gaps. This documentation likely won’t result in a complete picture, but facing this miasma headfirst by trying to trace a clearer chronicling of his life can help him figure out who he is now, by decoding what he’s gone through.
Remembering forgotten experiences is a shapeshifting process, which is why choosing to animate Flee isn’t merely for safety’s sake; the unknown anonymity of his “true” identity is both his existential crisis and his saving grace from the powers he’s still fleeing. Though he might look the same from interview to interview, as he newly remembers his past, he’s becoming a different person before our very eyes. His static corporeal appearance does not convey this shapeshifting; hand-drawn animation, on the other hand, is constantly shifting from frame to frame, an apter framework for his plight, and for the impressionistic nature of memory recall. The animation contains the idea that identity, like hand-drawn art, is an ever-evolving human creation and recreation, capable of being redrawn with the next recollected memory.