Directed by Clyde Peterson
Starring Webster Crowell & Kimya Dawson
Animated Film Review by Chris Olson
Like a vibrant odyssey through identity and sexuality, Clyde Peterson’s autobiographical stop-motion film Torrey Pines is one of the most sumptuous animated films in recent years, in terms of gorgeous visuals to feast on, weighty themes to chew on, and a universality to be consumed by.
Telling the true story of Peterson’s experiences as a youngster, who ended up on a road trip with his schizophrenic mother, travelling across huge sections of the United States, Torrey Pines contains almost no dialogue. Aside from a few lines from TV shows, or a quirky keyboard recording session which utilises the phrase “butts” as every note on a jaunty arrangement, the film is completely visual and audial. Grunge and punk songs accompany the movie, denoting the time period of Peterson’s coming-of-age story, and provide some of the most moving sequences. The score is a huge cornerstone of the film’s appeal. One particular scene where endless rows of cornfields flow past was incredibly touching, the banality of the outlook was juxtaposed by a beautiful soundscape.
As with any film appearing at this year’s BFI Flare 2017 Film Festival, there are strong themes of sexual identity that play a crucial part in Torrey Pines. The character seems to struggle to identify with a lot of the elements of life around them, then finding connection with the more fantastical aspects of characters found in television. A few confusing and almost hallucinogenic sequences touch on the fluidity of sexuality during this time in someone’s life, and also the polarity of emotions involved; some moments are violently distressing, whilst others feel ethereal and graceful.
The animation itself took three years to complete, and the results are simply breathtaking. There is an artistry here that transcends movie storytelling, even for an animated film which is a genre that very often breaks social and cultural boundaries. Audiences will be able to connect with Torrey Pines on a level which requires no language. One of the most impressive aspects of the film which I noticed myself feeling, especially by the latter two-thirds, was how relatable the content was to my own feelings about my past. I say this not as someone who experienced a particularly turbulent childhood, and I am heterosexual so did not particularly struggle with sexual identity, but as someone who remembers important events visually, with music being an incredibly strong stimuli, but not what was really said during the pivotal moments of my coming-of-age. Herein lies the awesome beauty of Torrey Pines, as it captures something quite extraordinary about the shaping of someone that is both perfectly simple and painfully introspective.
There are some lovely moments of humour that populate the film’s running time too, such as some classroom flirting involving upside-down calculators, and a pop concert song using only muffled vocals. These are essential in keeping the story from falling into too much inward reflection, and allow a sense of roundedness to the character that viewers will need. A lot of Torrey Pines feels like it could run away with itself if care and attention were not paid to keeping some sense of grounding. Fortunately Peterson is quite simply a master craftsman who has made a film that is original, powerful, and beautifully poignant without ever drawing outside the lines.