Man on the Chair

Man on the Chair is a film focused on doubts, with a sense of uncertainty that goes beyond asking why we are here to whether we are here at all. Director Jeong Dahee doesn't seem especially interested in finding answers—it's the feeling of sitting within questions that seems to interest her.

A man wearing only underpants sits on a chair, resting his chin on his hand. Most of his body is blue, as if he is filled with water. A cloud pokes through the window beside him. The rest of the room is brown and tan; a nearly leafless plant is on the opposite side of the room, and a mirror reflects a cluttered bookshelf.

The man on the chair first appears in a mirror. His expression is inscrutable. He is shirtless, pantless, posed in a way that could be mistaken for preening. A mirror implies vanity, after all, despite the more positive connotations we give to the idea of reflection.

He tries to stand, but finds himself unable to complete the motion. He is visibly sweating—whether due to exertion or nerves is hard to say—and he seems to be filling with water, his body both a solid object and a translucent vessel. The chair legs root themselves to the floor. He can't move, so instead, he thinks.

It has long been a cliche to say that an animated film feels like a dream, when what we really mean is that it is strange, or untethered to reality. There are parts of Jeong Dahee's Man on the Chair that feel explicitly dream-like, though, especially that initial moment of being unable to move despite struggling to stand. Being weighed down by some unnatural force is such a common sensation in dreams that it immediately makes you question the film's reality—which is exactly the point.

Man on the Chair is a film focused on doubts, with a sense of uncertainty that goes beyond asking why we are here to whether we are here at all. For all that contemplation, though, Dahee doesn't seem especially interested in finding answers. It's the feeling of sitting within questions that seems to interest her, and the film takes on the challenge of depicting the emotional impact of doubt at the deepest existential level.

In that sense, you could almost call it ontological horror—the score definitely seems designed to ratchet up the tension—but it's too playful to really carry that term. As the man's doubts become greater, he starts to see himself filling all of the room's surfaces, recasting the cramped apartment as refractions of his self. It's a beautiful way to show the blurring of the line between self and world that can come from intense doubt, and builds brilliantly towards a depiction of recursive reality, identity nested within identity and on to infinity.

Man on the Chair premiered in the Directors' Fortnight at Cannes in 2014, an impressive feat for a debut short that would go on to earn a host of awards from Annecy, Hiroshima, Zagreb and many others. She has only built on that acclaim in the years since, racking up 100+ screenings of her followup, The Empty, before returning to Cannes with 2019's Movement. It's a safe bet, then, that whatever she works on next will be worth seeing. All the more reason to follow her on Instagram and Vimeo for a glimpse at what's coming next.

Man on the Chair

dir: Jeong Dahee

syn: “Man on the chair” is tormented and constantly doubts his very own existence. It is just merely a picture that I created... Perhaps could I be also an image crafted by others?

2014