Through the Weeping Glass: On the Consolations of Life Everlasting (Limbos & Afterbreezes in the Mütter Museum)

Brothers Quay, 2011, USA, 31 min.

The specimens contained in the Mutter Museum, and the style of the Brothers Quay would seem to be a match made in heaven.

The specimens are medical instruments, examples and oddities that go back hundreds of years. A corpse turned to soap, a 10-foot colon, dozens of deformed fetal skeletons, and hundreds of body parts in jars to name a few.

The Brothers Quay have been making stop-motion and experimental films for decades. Their many films rely more on creating a tone or a mood than following a traditional narrative.

So the Quay brothers tackling a film in a museum of medical oddities had a lot of promise. And in many respects, the film is exactly what you would expect. For lack of a better term I’m going to use a phrase I hate: It’s a “tone poem”.

There isn’t any animation here, or even much movement. The film is full  of static shots of exhibits, items of interest, photographs, and ancient medical textbooks. The whole thing loosely orbits around the central question: “When you were a child, could you ever have imagined that…”

You can finish that sentence with any number of horrible things. “Your deformed skeleton would end up in a museum.” “You will be smothered by a giant pillow-sized tumor.”, etc.

At 31 minutes, the films feels long, and the mood that it gave me was confusion (what are they trying to do with this film) intermixed with physical discomfort (showing the instruments and the method used to remove blander stones before anesthesia).

At times, the film does convalesce into an interesting mix of pain, sadness and art. Unfortunately, that wasn’t too often, and even if the subject matter is of particular interest to you, it is going to be tough to find something to take away from this film.

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