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Stopmotion

The Art of Obsession: Robert Morgan’s Stopmotion

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Robert Morgan’s Stopmotion follows Ella Blake (Aisling Franciosi) who, following her animator mother’s stroke, sets to bring a dark animated project to life with the help of a mysterious little girl (Caoilinn Springall). As Ella descends deeper into madness, the lines between reality and the film become blurred, with bloody consequences.

Stopmotion brought back memories of films such as Sunset Boulevard and Black Swan, movies about artists and perfectionism, artists who lose themselves to their craft, destroyed by it but dying with a smile on their face. Maybe the reason why I’m compelled by the idea of the obsessed artist is because it reveals something about our human nature. Obsession is part of humanity; art becomes part of us. If we don’t lose ourselves to the art, are we really creating? The film takes this in a literal direction by having Ella use her own muscle tissue to make her puppets and ultimately dying in the commission of the project, like a sacrificial lamb on the altar of self-expression.

Ella was definitely in a position of privilege, as the daughter of a famous artist and her assistant, she doesn’t really have any responsibilities. She can focus on her projects. However, I still sympathized with her. Ella is in her mother’s shadow, forced to follow her directions to adjust stop-motion puppets due to her arthritis. The tension comes off the screen because the task is so tedious and delicate. While clearly talented in her own right, Ella is stifled, shackled to her mother. The parallels between Ella and the puppets are evident: she is being controlled by her mother the way she is controlling them.

Stopmotion 2After her mother has a stroke, Ella tries to continue the original film without her, but it is obvious she can’t continue. Beyond the need for independence, Ella cannot make her mother’s film because she cannot abide the inauthenticity of guiding puppets that are not hers. She has to be herself, she has to be original, not a copy of her mother, breaking free of the strings she has manipulated her with. Her film is twisted and shocking, but it is hers, and that’s all that matters.

To me, it seemed obvious that the little girl telling her the story was an extension of Ella, a repressed part of her breaking out to unleash her most avant garde and bravest concepts. Ella has no need of the hallucinogenic drugs offered to her when her imagination is sufficiently dark. She doesn’t seek to please anyone, even as her obsession with the film alienates her from her relationships. When Ella melds with the film at the end, literally putting herself into the puppets, there is something liberating about it, that she didn’t sacrifice her creative vision.

Far from disgusting me, the film actually made me motivated to create. I think I’m not alone when I say as an artist it’s easy to fall into the pit of procrastination, the apathy of burnout. While those are natural feelings, I think obsession is the best remedy and the best way to improve. You cannot be an artist and make things halfheartedly; you have to be consumed by the passion of it. This is illustrated in the film when Ella tells her boyfriend, Tom, that he is not a musician, that he works a 9-5 job and plays music in his off time, but that doesn’t make him an artist. By this, I don’t mean that everyone should just quit their jobs and become an artist full time, but I think it shows that art without obsession is empty. When Tom’s sister, Polly, hires Ella at the studio she works at and we see that she has plagiarized Ella’s film, we see the contrast between the soullessness of corporate art, art made to be consumed, and the purity of Ella’s authentic vision. I think it’s not a coincidence that these are the two characters she ultimately kills. With the topical comparisons of AI art and ChatGPT replacing visual and written media, I cannot help but be reminded of the powerful humanity behind art. The film suggests to me to never give up, to believe in yourself, and you will achieve greatness in art, even if your audience is only yourself.

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