Idiots and Angels is basically a silent film. The animated characters can make grunts of frustration and yowls of pain, but all of the real communication happens through main animator Bill Plympton’s artwork. And that’s fine, because Bill Plympton has a gorgeous drawing style. His work balances a soft color palette against jagged shading, deeply textured drawings against plenty of negative space, and silly sight gags against a backdrop of existential darkness. But it’s still basically a silent film.
Which means that I had the same problem with it that I have with almost all silent films: there just isn’t enough story content to capture my attention. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I’m someone who uses the verbal part of my brain incessantly and the visual part of my brain secondarily. That means that if you give me a story that’s told mostly through visual elements I’m going to be continually drifting into my own thoughts over so I can keep the flow of words going.
It doesn’t help that I’ve been obsessing over a specific train of thought lately. For the last few weeks if I’m unoccupied for even a few seconds I’ll start thinking about how life as an adult is different from how I thought it would be when I was a child. Here’s what I can’t get over: I was mostly right about the way the world works, but I was completely wrong about how I would work. By that I mean that I always had pretty realistic expectations of what it would take to get along in life – of what college and working some middle class cube farm job would be like – and although there’s more depth and nuance to the actual experience than there was in my imagination, it’s not completely dissimilar. I had spent so much time watching mid-life crisis movies as a teenager that I was able to understand the frustrations and joys of the life I’m currently living before I was living it. (Thanks American Beauty!)
What I didn’t expect was that most of my frustrations would actually be internal. I didn’t foresee that my own mind would change so much. I don’t know if it’s just that growing older involves growing more self aware in a bad way, or if there is some physiological change that is producing these extra layers of anxiety, but I find myself spending more and more time trying to govern my own mind than I used to. Is my sense of dissatisfaction a real thing? Am I making up these problems or are they real issues that I need to deal with? Is it my fault that I’m here and not somewhere else? I didn’t expect to be faced with those questions because I thought my pragmatism would ground me in a way that it hasn’t.
When pre-adult Kirk imagined the world of his future he expected it to be just like school – easy enough to skate through, but kind of tedious – and that’s not wrong; those hassles are ever-present but easy enough to navigate like a low grade headache. I also imagined that I would pretty much be the same guy, and in some ways I am, but I’m different enough to feel a bit disappointed. I expected to be more confident when I had more experience under my belt, but in fact the opposite has occurred, and now I’m far more aware of my own defects than I was when I was younger. The worst part is that I can only imagine the damage spiraling as I get older. Now I look at my older relatives and I see how these same insecurities have compounded and calcified as they've gotten older and I just think: oh fuck.
On some level I get that it’s weird to be thinking about these things while I’m looking at a screen where a man is using power tools to saw off the angel wings he grew on his back overnight. I understand that if I’m looking at something that gruesome and offbeat it should be easy to focus on that and to get out of my own head for a minute. But there’s something about that situation that’s hard to relate to, something that’s keeping me at a distance. Who wakes up and is suddenly better than they were before? Don’t we all just wake up slightly worse off than we used to be? What's going on right now?