Another week, another wolf, another film about innocence and its passing.
Perhaps more than anything else we’ve discussed so far, Carn by Jeff Le Bars is about choice.
What is this life we live? What is this world we must live in? Why so cruel, why so beautiful, why so senseless?
Perhaps the causality here makes sense and the child deserves the ending he receives, but who makes art to punish people? I don’t believe that’s why people create. I never have. I think art shows us something inside of us, something we didn’t know or understand, something we were afraid to look at. Art is a mirror that reveals who and what we are.
It’s fitting that I came across this today. I’ve been frustrated all day and that’s sort of overflow from a rather frustrating week. The internet is full of bickering, of thoughtlessness, of cruelty, of narcissism, and it weighs on me horribly at times. As much as I love the internet and the worlds it opens up, I am often equally horrified by the behavior it reveals. The attacks, the rage, the loss of critical thinking, especially when it comes to situations that are complex and difficult. I’m thinking of Ukraine, I suppose, and Chelsea Manning [always], and young girls in Nigeria. We want there to be simple answers, for solutions to be logical, causal, but that’s not the world we live in. Probably the world’s never been this way. There’s so much clutter, so much shouting, so much anger, and so little reflection, so little time spent plotting the courses our logic leads us, so little time accepting the causality of our choices, of our actions. Before this becomes an essay about the history of imperialism and western jingoism, I’ll get back to Carn.
We’re in the storm and we follow a boy barely holding on, the snow thick in the air, falling faster and faster, the wind tearing at his tiny humanboy body. He collapses, exhausted, ready for Death to guide him onward.
And then the wolf. She wakes the boy and tells him to follow. She leads him, Deathly, and he follows Death as her blood smears over the landscape to her den, to her children.
One life for another. They’re both dying but if the boy goes on, he can save the pups. Deathly, the wolf demands he live but only on the condition that he care for the young.
In this moment, the boy shrugs off his childhood. He has accepted the burden of murder, the burden of a life lived in the debt of another. In murdering the wolf, he takes his life back from the storm, from the snow.
The animation’s beautiful here. Stark and dark and brutal, the boy murders the wolf and eats her. Deathly, the boy’s covered in wolfblood, in the blood of his savior, baptised for a new life, and he approaches the pups. Faced with the reality of his debt, with the life he owes to the life he took, he stops. The pup comes to the boy who wears its mother for warmth, for life, and the wolfpup is a mirror. It shows the boy who he is and what his choices mean. It shows him what it means to take, what it means to promise. It shows him a future so distant from what he imagined for himself that he flees.
He flees the pups, leaving them to die.
In fleeing he becomes monstrous. Wearing the skin of the murdered, he is a demon roaming the countryside, prowling through the storm as he runs back to civilisation, to the life he wanted, to the one he knows he should have.
And in his greatest hope, he sees the humans who sought him. Perhaps they’re his family. Perhaps they’re only a search party. Seeing them, he knows he’s survived, that the life he imagined opening before him was secure. And so he runs to them, to civilisation, leaving the wolf dead, the pups dying. The life he promised the wolf falls away and he shrugs off the monstrous life of a wolfboy, exchanging it for humanity, for society.
And in his greatest hope he finds Death from those who meant to save him.
This is not a metaphor. Art is not a metaphor.
It is our mirror, and in it I see choice. I see the world around me, haunting me, screaming Deathly always. I see our innocence lost. Not our individual innocence, but the innocence of humanity. I see the way we’ve grown monstrous, pillaging the earth, rotting all our promises to keep it safe, to protect it. I see the ecological imperialism, the social and cultural imperialism, and I feel it acutely. I see drones flying and oil spilling.
I see fires raging and oceans rising.
But that’s not the fault of Le Bars.
Carns is a film, beautiful and bold, with a strong aesthetic and haunting atmosphere. It’s brilliantly animated and it sticks in you, somewhere deep inside. It’s the kind of film that will keep rolling over in your skull long after its five minutes are up.
And this is the perfection of art. Art reveals us. It teaches us who we are and what we are and where we are.