South Korean director Bum-wook Hur introduces a beautifully bleak animation film to the 2015 edition of Montreal’s Fantasia Festival. Set in a dystopia where everything is colorless and people have gone dementedly cruel, On the White Planet introduces viewers to an artistically stunning yet unforgivably evil fictional world.
This is the story of a colored boy born into a colorless world, persecuted for being so incredibly different. Nothing unusual or even original there. The main protagonist simply spends the whole movie escaping various evil pale people pursuing him out of fear or for their personal gain (of course, the people in charge of this strange planet put a bounty on our colored boy’s head). The White Planet is basically a place where everyone has just gone completely crazy. Bloodthirsty traitors, sadists, rapists and murderers all close in on our lonely boy who just longs for love and acceptance. Overall, the premise of the movie is highly reminiscent of Lois Lowry’s classic dystopia The Giver. On the White Planet is just a whole lot darker and more graphic. Imagine victimized children murdering their parents, adults sodomizing children and stabbing galore. And only our main protagonist’s blood is a richly red color. Brace yourself for a ton of animated gore as people lose their eyes and their fingers, while our coloured child tries to scrape off his own skin to turn pale.
As one may notice by briefly going over the main premise of this movie, On the White Planet simply oozes with dystopia clichés. Everyone is bad. Everyone will betray you. Everyone is racist. No one is multi-faceted; all morality is simply black or white, just like the setting of the movie. And the main protagonist is just the sad victim of the world he was born into. Whenever a bad guy is about to kill the main character, they take the time to make this long, evil and entirely superfluous speech. Of course, that gives someone else the possibility of interceding to help our protagonist. I feel like it’s about time bad guys understand that they need to hurry up with their damned killing, or it never pans out properly. Furthermore, every character in deep physical pain (or on the point of dying) always laughs maniacally in a way that only anime can properly render. This happens at least five times in the movie.
However, the stunning visuals of the film (as well as its inherent darkness) make it kind of difficult to truly dislike. The intricate black and white setting always feels flat, providing quite an interesting perspective when set against a nebula-spangled sky and three-dimensional animated characters. One scene that impressed me particularly unravelled in a mansion, where suddenly, the black lines turned white and the white background turned black, creating a fascinating “X-Ray” effect. Sometimes, the film is also interrupted by dramatic narrations and metaphors, or trippy cartoons full of spirals, to represent a character’s inner mind. There are so many lovely visual details for a viewer to take in.
The last scene of the movie is set at an abandoned amusement park, where our 15-year old protagonist finally indulges in a decrepit imitation of his childhood wishes that never came true. Our boy suddenly melodramatically confronts his friend who just cruelly betrayed him, using lots of curse words and elaborating on his unrealistically acute sense of smell: “You’re all the same. You’re a white one after all. Everything you white ones say is a lie. I’m a f*cking loser for having trusted a disgusting pig like you, because you’re made of your father’s disgusting sperm, and I can smell it when I’m near you.” Such animated theatricals can seldom be taken seriously. At least, the ensuing blood bath helps the main character accomplish his deepest desire: to fly away from this planet. Leaving a trail of crimson fluids behind him (spoiler alert), the boy climbs into an old aerospace museum. He reaches the balcony and tragically glares into the sun. Suddenly, his blood soaked hands transition from anime to real hands. The boy then manages to take flight from this world, as he leaps off the balcony, tenderly thinking about his dead parents.
The final scene of the film basically sums up On the White Planet. A little blue sapling struggles its way out of a gray paved road. Colorless kids surround it with terrified fascination and crush the coloured plant, as they were taught in school. Despite all the clichés surrounding this work, On the White Planet was one of my favorite movies from the festival – it is quite the dark and visually stunning dystopia. It may not bring anything too interesting through its message, but the film is imbued in some thoroughly commendable cynicism.
Best Quote: “You’re all the same. You’re a white one after all. Everything you white ones say is a lie. I’m a f*cking loser for having trusted a disgusting pig like you, because you’re made of your father’s disgusting sperm, and I can smell it when I’m near you.” [That must be some strong sperm to be able to be smelled years after its release.]