Film: Idiots & Angels (2008)
Writer/Director/Animator: Bill Plympton
21st-Century Gregor Wakes with Wings
In the Sioux myth of White Buffalo Woman, two braves on a hunting trip see a beautiful woman in white buckskin approaching them from a distance. The first recognizes her spiritual character and warns the other against making a pass at her. The second brave doesn’t listen, and ends up a pile of bones and writhing snakes.
White Buffalo Woman returns home with the wise brave and teaches the villagers the ritual of the pipe, a necessary exchange of energy between the spirit world and the material world.
What does this have to do with Idiots & Angels? The film is about what happens when the Good breaks into this vale of tears: some will attempt to exploit it and will be destroyed by it, while others will accept it and permit it to open the window that lets in, in the words of C.S. Lewis, ?the sweet air blowing from ?the land of righteousness.??
Donald starts out with the first group. A jerk if there ever was one, he drinks too much, hurts innocent people for kicks, goes out of his way to be selfish and inconsiderate, shows an obscene lack of respect for women, and sells contraband firearms. He practically squirms with delight at his own boorishness.
So why does a pair of angel wings slowly and mysteriously sprout from Donald’s back? Why this guy, of all people? The appearance of the wings is testament to the unfathomable quality of the divine and its apparent foolhardiness in targeting and tackling evil.
Donald is at first puzzled by the appearance of these wings, then embarrassed?then humiliated when they draw derision from others. But when he realizes he can fly, he immediately tries to force the wings into the service of his libidinous and cruel ego.
But the wings appear to have a mind of their own, choosing to prevent him from doing the evil he wishes; they even make him make amends for the harm he’s done. Because they compel him to commit deeds which his arseholery finds repugnant, he becomes enraged and determines to cut them off.
This turns out to not be an option, as a series of unfortunate and bizarre after-effects reveals. The wings are now part of Donald and he is compelled to make room for them in the soulless shell of his identity. This stimulates him to create a new sense of self that doesn’t quite fit into the world as he knows it?but which ends up changing that world.
This is not the typical candy-coated animation I’ve always loved, but It’s still highly lovable. The colours are all beige-y and there’s a lack of fluency in the frame progressions. There’s no speech, just a series of idiot groans and grunts and the occasional humming. And Donald’s a schmuck. you’d think there wasn’t much to like here, but deeper into the story the magnificence shines through.
In Anatomy of Criticism Northrop Frye argues that when irony is pushed to its limits it morphs into myth. You see this happening as Donald, the poster child for self-absorbed cynical and sinister self-interest, is transformed. And the goodness that he finds embraces nature, love, beauty, music, and joy as it violently eschews power, religion, and ambition.
Idiots & Angels focuses on an individual’s struggle with evil. In a world presently prickly with pointing fingers It’s refreshing to see this theme addressed with such vision and clarity. But no personal moral struggle is relevant unless it also speaks into the universal problem of evil.
This film is eminently relevant.
As a postscript: Donald’s tombstone reads ?1918-1946,? incidentally the life years of Alberto Marvelli, an Italian philanthropist killed by an army truck. The symbolism is so apt I can’t help thinking Plympton must have used it on purpose.