Emotional Montage


I am working on an animated trailer for Jen Larsen’s memoir, Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery Transformed My Body and Messed with My Head (being released in February by Seal Press). The script for the animation is the introduction to the book, which outlines a series of the author’s strange, hilarious, heartbreaking self-“improvement” fantasies. The first few are described so visually that the stage directions were basically written for me. But the penultimate fantasy is about an emotional transformation, in which the character becomes the kind of person she wants to be—warm, happy, wise, etc. To show her emotional transformation, I wanted to have the character enter a magical world. I decided on a woodland scene, starting out with the character standing next to some trees, looking glum. Then she stretches out her arms, the trees bear fruit, and she becomes friends with some deer. I thought this might be stupidly sweet in a way that would fit with the self-aware, funny, sad tone of the writing. But something bothered me.

I set the cut-outs aside for a day and thought about this scene—and realized that it wasn’t specific enough. In the rest of the animation, the imagery consists of everyday objects depicted in unusual scenarios. Almost every object is based on something I’ve seen in real life: my favorite coffee cup, my grandmother’s armchair, the funeral home near my house. The trees and deer in the woodland scene were not drawn from memories of real trees or deer, but from images in fairy tales.

That’s when I decided I wanted to make a montage of ordinary actions. Instead of changing the setting, I would change the perspective. I would show the character engaged in one domestic activity after another, using the trope of a montage to tenderly poke fun at the idea that it's possible to become perfect.

I love montages. I love how sentimental they are, and how they depict almost nothing of how time passes, but so much of how it feels to look back on things. I wonder how our ability to instantly “montage” our own lives through social media affects our way of thinking about things. I have a love-hate relationship with those perfectly Instagrammable moments—the well-plated, locally-sourced dinner; the perfect mid-day latte; the urban mason jar—you know what I mean.

I think that my issue has to do with making personal happiness a consumer item. This surely isn’t a new thing. Instagram didn’t invent bragging. When we don’t have something, we can become consumed with wanting it. When we get it, we know that our lives our still as complicated as before, and yet it is easy to fall prey to the allure of making ourselves appear simple now that we’ve gotten this (socially-acceptable) thing.

Stranger Here is about being unhappy and thinking it’s because of one thing, and then finding out that when that thing changes, the feelings don’t really change. There’s a quote I read (on Facebook, naturally) that goes something like, “Don’t judge yourself, because you’re always comparing your blooper reel to someone else’s highlight reel.” But much of the time, we put our highlight reel out into the world as the official storyline. And maybe that is inevitable when we are communicating in such short bursts. I'm not anti-Social-Media, but I am curious how, over time, the forms of communication we use might change the way we perceive the world, and ourselves. I think that’s why it is so important to also share longer, complicated narratives that aren’t all good or all bad, but are nuanced and ambivalent. They help us read between the lines of the 140 characters.

Two weeks from now, I will post the completed trailer. Hopefully, the guy doing the soundtrack will have come up with some sweet montage music.

Molly's previous pieces on process can be found here.