Air France, Coraline and Memory

The missing Air France plane is really getting to me. The idea of a plane crashing with over 200 people on board over the Atlantic Ocean is horrifying enough without all of the mystery and conjecture surrounding this particular event. The idea of something so big, with so many people on board loosing contact and disappearing seems like it should be impossible in this world of technology and constant connection. It moves me between feeling absolutely terrified at the thought of getting on an airplane (or in fact of ever leaving the house again) while simultaneously being grateful that I am here and that my life is really pretty wonderful.

People will often talk, usually referring to teenagers, about how some people think they are invincible. I think to some degree we all walk around the world assuming we will be OK, otherwise no one would ever go out and life itself would grind to a halt. Although I certainly don’t walk around terrified, I can honestly say that for as long as I can remember, I’ve never felt a sense of absolute safety.

When I was in late primary school and into high school I can remember my grandmother showing me newspaper clippings of murdered or missing women and girls and saying, “This could be you. Be careful because this could be you.” I know it sounds morbid and horrible, but it did instill in me a sense of optimistic caution. I’ve never assumed that I am untouchable and have always been a bit in awe of my more crazy and reckless friends. I sometimes wonder if men struggle with feeling secure in this world in the same way that women do. I’m not sure.

On Saturday night Dan and I went to see Coraline at the cinema. Although it looks like a film for children, its PG rating and direction by the man who produced A Nightmare Before Christmas indicated it was something more. I thought it was wonderful and dark and weird. It played with so many of the strange and complex fears that people have, especially as children, like the idea that you don’t really know your own family. Beneath the exterior of the nuclear unit is some strangeness that can do emotional and sometimes physical damage. That even at home, security is not an absolute.

The evil character in the film is called the Belle Dam by the children she has trapped in her lonely other world. I can only assume that her name is a reference to the Keats poem La Belle Dam Sans Merci (translated from French means the beautiful woman without pity/mercy), which, strangely enough, was one of the rhymes I can remember learning as a child. It’s about a knight who meets a beautiful, wild woman. He takes her home and believes they are in love but when he falls asleep he has horrible nightmares of death where the ghosts warn him that he is in her thrall. When he wakes up, she is gone and he is alone on a cold hillside:
And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering
Though the sedge has withered from the lake
And no birds sing.
The most terrifying thing about the character in Coraline is her need to remove the eyes of her victims in order to control them. Her little world is filled with people who have buttons where their eyes would have been all robotically under her power. Slowly things begin to literally and metaphorically disintegrate around her as Coraline collects the lost eyes of the children she’s stolen.

Easy to overlook and a bit sad is that the Belle Dam seems to be seeking something to love more than anything but her love is carnivorous and destructive. She can’t sustain it once she’s caught her victims. Her desire eventually consumes her and the precarious little world of illusion she’s built crumbles away.

It’s well worth a watch and if nothing else, it is lovely to look at. It’s the first animated film that has actually made me jump in my seat. It’s funny how all these little blocks of experience – films, music, books, world events – bring up old memories and in some ways reshape them. Maybe it’s because I am so far from home, but lately from this vantage point, I am finding myself understanding my life in different ways. Memories really aren’t solid things and are subject to interpretation under the lens of new experiences. It is equal parts exciting and scary to see that the foundation isn’t really absolute.

PS: For those who prefer to read the book first, Coraline is based on a novella with the same name by Neil Gaiman.

(Image pulled from Forbidden Planet)

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Friday Films said...

No mystery except it's probably pretty tough to find something that's been swallowed by the Atlantic if you're not sure where to look. Unfortunately, it seems to be turning up now in the way they pretty much feared:

Does make you want to cling more tightly to all the things you hold dear.

How come I've never heard of this Caroline movie until now? It's right up my ally! I need to get out more... Um, you interested in babysitting? :)