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Two dots and a line

The blue line that appears in the film’s animations has its origin in a drawing that I made when I was about two years old.

When researching the immense topic of the face, at some point I bumped into the universe of babies: when do we, as infants, understand that a face has more social weight than other parts of the body? I read a text that discussed the moment babies first begin to distinguish faces from other shapes surrounding them. It made me think of the face as a shape, to deconstruct it and relegate it to the level of a hand, a pair of trousers, or a coffee machine. Reality abstracted and flattened into a 2D world.

In my research, I also turned to scientific understandings. What is a face, biologically? What was the first living being in natural history to have a face? I found that the earliest creatures were invertebrates and had no faces. Then, some Precambrian animals began to develop mouths, around which were grouped external organs in service of sight.

So first the mouth, then the eyes. The minimum visual expression of this is two dots and a line, as we can find in “baby art” (or in smiley faces). Reduced to such a degree, all faces are fundamentally equal.

At some point during the editing, we included the photo of my baby drawing in the title sequence. The sequence evolved and the drawing was removed, but the blue line remained and became a tool to conjure the meaning of a face. It felt at once more immediate, more playful, and more open than a voice over, which—when dealing with such abstract questions—seemed too cold and impersonal.

Control and categorization

But then there remains the question of identity. Symbolic representations aside, we are not all the same, we don’t look all the same. In the film Marina’s face is tangibly different from before, a change not only apparent at plain sight, but which also bore a scientific and mathematical fundament. We introduced the visual language of facial recognition software—a technology intimately linked to surveillance and control—to probe this process of categorization, and question our need for identification.

We asked ourselves: is identity a prison? Something that ultimately fixes and limits us? A fantasy of stability in an ever-changing reality? Is the faceless jellyfish more free if it can’t be identified, surveilled, and tracked?

Of course, science and technology have developed countless identification tools beyond facial recognition, whether fingerprints or DNA, so a faceless jellyfish could in theory also be identified and indexed. We thus translated the logic of “facial recognition” to simply “shape recognition”, imagining a technology that would analyze  and distinguish even creatures without faces.

To love, to possess

But could such creatures also be loved? Beyond institutional and corporate control, our faces are essential for the establishment of emotional bonds and affection. Such capacity to care for a faceless animal, be it a starfish or a jellyfish, is possible through the acting of naming, supported by imagined biographies and personality traits; an act of identification. It’s somewhat more challenging if only slightly removed from our relationships with the cats, birds, and reptiles we adopt as pets and members of our families.

This game of invention speaks to me about the tension between care and control. We domesticate animals, we give them names and histories, and then we love them. How much does the way we care for and love another being in general come hand in hand with a drive to tame and dominate? Ultimately, can we love without controlling, without possessing?

Free as jellyfishes

In the final animated sequence of the film, we go from complex masks to stripped down faces. We wanted to evoke the need to remove the shallow layers of our masks, of our identities, to free ourselves from the external ideas of who we are and, above all, allow ourselves to change, to mutate, and become whatever we feel. This is the liberatory potential the jellyfish symbolizes throughout the film.

Melisa Liebenthal

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