Anthropomorphism and metamorphosis in Cellphone’s Dead (Michel Gondry, 2006)

This video, in its depiction of both animate and inanimate objects intermingling, demonstrates a deliberately surreal nature. This creation of the surreal compels the viewer to question the nature of the video itself, the nature of reality, and how reality can be both distorted and manipulated through film.

The decision to shoot the video in black and white removes the opportunity for any clear relationship between colour and sound, instead ensuring that the viewer’s attention remains on the visual element of the video and the surreal manner of these visuals. The video uses visual elements in a number of ways, which, despite their differences, all effectively function in the same manner, creating a sense of the surreal.

The most immediate demonstration of the surreal is shown at the very beginning of the video: a view through a window displays a skewed, clearly manipulated perspective of the cityscape below, indicating that this nature of reality will be maintained throughout the video’s duration. The immediately surreal nature of the video informs the viewer’s expectations: realising this is not our own reality, but is, through the familiar cityscape, not entirely removed from it.

Whilst this moment is clearly the most immediate, taking place at the video’s beginning, it is by no means the most explicit depiction of the surreal. The truly surreal element of the video stems from the animation and reanimation of supposedly-inanimate objects. As Beck enters the room, an animated figure, created to resemble an anthropomorphic building, enters the room. Beck himself then turns into a similarly-animated figure, with the original animated figure metamorphosing into Beck. As these transformations interchange with one another repeatedly, the viewer’s sense of reality and the idea of a stable state are entirely undermined. Here, within the four walls of this room, it would appear that anything is possible.

This anthropomorphism, and in turn metamorphosis, is clearly the focus of the video itself. Aside from the narrative focus, the use of lighting effectively acts as a spotlight upon these animations, highlighting the visual elements, indicating to the viewer that these transformations should be their focus.

The ending of the video, in which the transformations cease, demonstrates an end to the surreal reality that has been created, as well as highlighting its limits. The camera, panning around the room, focuses on the window, then Beck, and then finally the door. Each of these elements focus upon the means through which the animated figures have entered the room: the animated figures enter through the window and the door, whilst Beck himself is subject to physical transformations. Returning to these focal points demonstrates the limitations of this surreal reality: it only exists within these four walls, and whilst animated figures can enter and leave through these exits, they are only animated within the room itself.


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