Ryan

I went to the Northwest Film Forum’s Friday night festival to finally catch all of the Oscar shorts I never get to see before the ceremony. I’m going to devote the next several entries to reviewing them. Be warned, thar be spoilers ahead.

Ryan: The interviewer introduces himself as Chris Landreth. The emotional scars within him are the scars on his face; the hole in his head is his inability to handle his finances. He puts a “happy face on it” made of cobwebs, but as the camera dives into it we realize the smiling face is barely containing the screaming on the inside. And that’s just the first nine seconds.

From the first frame forward, Ryan was an engrossing nightmare at once painful to watch and completely brilliant. Ryan Larkin, the narrator explains, was an influential Canadian animator, an Oscar-winner, now a panhandler on the streets of Montreal. As Chris sits down with his tape recorder, Ryan lifts a cigarette to a face that has deteriorated to almost nothing, the ultimate ending to Chris’s more minor claw marks. As Ryan fingers animation frames from his short Walking, his memory pulls him back to days when he is a complete figure, alive and in motion with his drawings. People from his past come to life from sketches; the wasted Ryan takes the hand of an old girlfriend and says, “We should have had kids.” The drawing smiles: “I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

These moments of poignant clarity are fleeting for a man in Ryan Larkin’s condition. Recognizing that this section of the interview is more about the narrator than the subject, it’s titled “Chris.” Chris presses Ryan to consider giving up alcohol. Larkin becomes defensive, then suddenly explodes, literally bristling. The halogen halo over Chris’s head that appeared as he made a clumsy attempt at a good deed shorts and goes out, and the narrator fumbles for the pieces of his subject scattered over the table. Chris makes a comparison of Ryan to his mother’s alcoholism; her deteriorating photograph mimics Ryan’s corrosion.

I was absorbed with, emotionally drawn in by, and sometimes disgusted with the characters onscreen and with myself. Ryan is lurking inside of every artist, a symbol of failure, a picture of poverty, a summation of what happens when money and ability run dry. There’s a certain terror too in thinking that perhaps the things that have torn us up on the inside are obvious and glaring to everyone else. The short ends with Larkin on the streets, asking for change. His movements gradually become a graceful dance, and in the mirror, he is whole again. And of course we know that is as close to whole as he ever will be. Absolutely perfect.

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