For some, the existential heebie-jeebies creep in only during small, idle moments – perhaps when you’re awake in bed, or prompted by a mind-bending book or film. Or maybe you find the mysteries of the Universe an endless source of wonder and even joy. But for others, the strangeness of existence, and the reality it rests upon, can be a haunting prospect. Where did I – and everything else – come from? Am I really here? How can I know that I even exist? For those with ruminative and anxious minds, these most fundamental questions are more than just philosophy-class curiosities – they have the capacity to reverberate, linger and overwhelm.
At once meditative and unsettling, Man on the Chair by the Korean animator Jeong Dahee mines enigmatic art from the unknowable. With very few words from an unseen narrator and a stunning series of visuals, she sketches out the tale of a man who, unable to move, spirals deep into the ontological quandaries that have troubled him since childhood. The story unfolds like a haunting dream, drifting further into the surreal with each passing moment.
Aided by a sparse and realistic sound design, Dahee builds a meticulous world, rich with detail at every turn. Lines on the man’s body are echoed in ripples of water, and later as birds in flight. When a table begins to move of its own volition and a glass atop it begins to spill, the creaks, drips and swirls unfold with a convincing physical realism. When a clock on the wall ticks, its second hand jerks into place in a lifelike manner. It’s these small touches, accumulating throughout and tethering the uncanny scenes to reality, that make the work so oddly enchanting.
Although Dahee builds a full story arc, she resists trying to moralise or rationalise away the experience of existential dread. Ultimately, Man on the Chair is a contemplative work, not a message. However, by eventually breaking the fourth wall and revealing herself as the film’s creator, Dahee perhaps hints at her own chosen way to channel anxious feelings about the big, unresolvable questions.
Written by Adam D’Arpino
Director: Jeong Dahee
Producer: Ron Dyens