MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
As the world sighs its way into another year of a pandemic, most of us have resigned ourselves to a new reality in which hours of work, church and social life are spent on our computers or digital devices. While I was one of the early adapters to new technologies decades ago, there is no doubt in my mind that the youth of today who have always lived with social media are surely having more fun online. However, the ever-present possibilities for bullying, defamation of character and injustice that accompany all social networks – and the anxiety of the recent seasons of distance learning and periods of lockdown – can also make things really tough for people of all ages.
The new anime film Belle comes at just the right time to bring hope and comfort to our fatigue. Master animator Mamoru Hosoda (Mirai, Summer Wars, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) created this movie during the pandemic, utilizing a team of creative artists to create something beautiful and uplifting, mixing traditional and computer animation in dazzling ways.
Suzu is a shy introvert who has a hard time fitting into the high school scene. Raised in a single parent home (her mother died in a tragic accident), she lacks the confidence to go out for sports or school music programs (she does participate as the youngest member of her church’s women’s chorus). She doesn’t date, and resigns herself to an unrequited crush on Shinobu, a popular boy. Fortunately, she has Hiro, a smart and sarcastic BFF, to keep her company.
Subsequently, Suzu spends much time online in “the U”, an alternative reality in which computer algorithms create avatars personally crafted to match your characteristics. Through a glitch in the system Suzu’s profile is confused with another student and she is reborn as Belle, a singer-songwriter rock star. In the U, she enjoys everything this fame can bring, including adulation and sharp criticism from thousands. Things become complicated when an angry beast known as the Dragon begins to prowl about. In spite of his terrifying presence, he provokes Belle’s sympathies.
Yes, there are elements of Beauty and Beast here, but Belle is so much more than a girl’s romance or a Sailor Moon adventure. It is a film that is able to critique endless hours spent living on our screens while also lifting up ways in which we might join together through technology. (It is somewhat ironic that this movie about a computer-generated world cannot be streamed at home.) Belle deals honestly with grief, pain, and redemptive sacrifice. While not ostensibly Christian, it is surely Christ-adjacent. Belle is the first big surprise of 2022. I would almost teach myself Instagram to promote it!
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Five halos: An imaginative fantasy about our need for community and the possibilities for connection – online and off – in the digital age.
Two pitchforks: For intense scenes involving bullying, violence and death.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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