Director: Jan Švankmajer
Czech director Jan Švankmajer’s Surviving Life is a whole movie in the style of Terry Gilliam’s animations. Or, more accurately, Gilliam’s animations are in the style of Švankmajer, who was a major influence on the Monty Python member. In an amusing introduction Švankmajer explains the film is a ‘psychoanalytic comedy’. He continues to say that the stop-motion style has been used in place of live-action because that was too expensive. The story has its origin, he says, in one dream he had, which he then wrote the rest of the scenes around. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant; Surviving Life is a surrealist film where the only reality is dreams.
The film tells the story of Eugene (Václav Helšus) who is bored with his banal but contented existence. More and more he escapes into vivid dreams of a mysterious woman in red. He comes to treasure these dreams more than anything else and when they don’t occur, seeks help from a psychoanalyst as well as pursuing his own means of recapturing this second life.
The film is a diligent student of both Freud and Jung. Dr. Holubová (Daniela Bakerová) explains the dreams variously as Eugene’s anima and as an Oedipus complex. Photographs of the two famed psychologists regularly come to blows hanging in Dr. Holubová’s office.
The film is quite funny, largely due to its surrealism, unpredictable mise-en-scene and bizarre cutaways from the action. It is set in a black and white Czech Republic populated with chickens, snakes, chicken heads on the bodies of naked women, bulldog heads on the bodies of men in suits, giant eggs and dozens of other strange and sometimes gruesome images.
Near the end of the film Švankmajer ties the many loose ends up in one monologue delivered by a previously unintroduced old wise man. Though the conclusion is a hilarious psychoanalytic conundrum I felt it would have been better left hinted at rather than the answers given in this way, which felt like a synopsis of the story dropped into the audience’s lap in case they didn’t know what had been happening in the previous hour and a half.