This one has taken quite a bit of thought, and I must admit I don’t think I have the full idea yet. There’s simply no way to spoil this one, and to be honest any account of the events is going to be a reinterpretation. I had a lot of problems following the story. The pacing requires concentration to the fullest, and I must admit I was lacking in that department. I can’t really say if the movie is at fault, but I must admit it’s hard to be invested in this level of abstraction.
SHe, directed by Zhou Shengwei, is an achievement of animation. That much I can say of a feature-length stop motion film that took half a decade to be made out 58,000 photographs. However, the part when I can only go so deep is in the symbolism. The levels of complexity are hard to follow, so describing the movie is already going to be an interpretative exercise that I will not be able to complete.
The world is industrial. The population must produce, but we have classes and they have a gender role that is strictly enforced. The creatures at the bottom are traditionally coded female, represented by red female shoes. They must work hard. Their essence is more one of nature, represented by vines and leaves. They are never rewarded and kept under wraps, literally. When they produce young, also coded female, the young are modified to be coded male.
The creatures at the top, or close to the top, are traditionally coded male, represented by black business male shoes. The male shoes work is rather light, and their rewards, represented by socks are huge. They get to consume a lot and can give into their vices of smoking and drinking. Their vices produce grime and soot that pleases and adorn the eye that watches over them with elaborate golden framing. The eye itself, is patriarchal, only spending its time for booze and cigarettes with the male coded creatures.
The story appears to be one of class struggle, in which it takes one coded female creature to pass as male to infiltrate the upper echelon. However, when egged up by the others, she ends up producing something different: a cherry. That cherry is adored by the eye above so much, it wishes to have more. So, we have a tale of class struggle and breaking chains, one in which industry battles nature and how nature can win. There’s an even more complex battle when the second generation must truly (and visually) absorb the first to move forward. However, the tale doesn’t necessarily portray a just outcome, as the second generation also seems to oppress the working class, also coded female. In the first generation, the patriarchy of the coded male is broken so why does the second generation fall into oppression of its own? A lesson in absolute power, perhaps?
Recommended only for scholars of experimental cinema and fans of the abstract. I’m pretty sure I’m only touching the surface of something that goes several layers deep. However, I have trouble with the pacing. The storytelling does favour repetition a lot to infer gender roles and will show you five instances of the same pattern. I concede that I couldn’t make sense of every concept. I would argue that when a movie wants us to deconstruct several layers deep of symbolism it better have engaging characters, an entertaining storyline or a satisfying payoff. More of the same is not reward enough to keep digging.
That will do for now.