Shorts with the ambition of The Eagleman Stag don’t come along very often, and Mikey Please’s BAFTA-winning 2011 film is one of those works that’s actually intimidating to try to summarize. It takes on life itself as its topic, or at least our experience of it. The protagonist is terrified of the passage of time, not out of fear of death, but because of the way every passing moment seems a little less valuable than the last, the way that a year feels weightier when you’re four, when it’s a quarter of your life, versus when you’re 40 and it’s a considerably smaller fraction. That fear leads to different responses—adventurousness, arrogance and alcoholism are all in the mix—but the film itself isn’t gloomy. It’s inspiring.
The Eagleman Stag is crafted out of paper and foam, and the colourless aesthetic makes it look more sombre than it really is, given the dry humour that runs throughout the film. It does lend itself to striking images, though, and even reads surprisingly well; there’s a crisp, clean quality that works with the headier subject matter, like stripping out the colour somehow also removes some mental clutter. It also gives the film a more dreamlike quality that’s particularly appropriate in a stunning sequence near the film’s end.
Please played a bit more with that feel in his follow-up, Marilyn Myller, using some inventive lighting techniques to dive deeper into the mystic, and even added some colour to the mix with the energetic Goodness Newness Oldness Badness (and even more so in the completely delightful Norman McLaren tribute he made with studio-mate and Slow Derek animator Dan Ojari), but as expertly made as those movies are, none hit quite as hard as The Eagleman Stag. It’s a rare combination of profound and entertaining, and is as distinctive visually as it is in its ideas. Appropriately, it seems immune to time and experience—even after having watched it a dozen times or more, it still feels, to use the film’s own word, weighty.
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