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“I haven’t always been here. I mean before… I was normal.”
This quote is from the striking French animation short film Skhizein (2008), written and directed by Jérémy Clapin. It tells the story of Henri Debrus who departs from himself precisely ninety-one centimeters as a consequence of having been struck by a 150 tons of meteorite.
The title of the movie gives us a clue about Henri’s situation.
The term schizophrenia comes from the Greek words “skhizein” (to split) and “phren” (mind) which can be put as “split mind”. Henri has a mental disorder, but the film indicates more than that. The strong metaphor that has been used also shows us the effects of the alienation of a person to his own being. During this thirteen minutes short movie, we witness Henri’s deep loneliness because of this alienation, by being 91 centimeters from himself (and the distance gets even more with the second meteroite strike), Henri is not where he is supposed to be. Despite the fact that he is suffering from schizophrenia (and careful audiences will notice the signs that proves his delusion), the case here is not just a matter of having a mental disease, the metaphor also indirectly brings up the question of an existential matter which can also be evaluated apart from pyschological aspects. Since Henri is not “normal” anymore as he used to be, we see how he has been dragged into a crisis as well as having difficulties with keeping on his daily life. Despite his despair, his therapist claims that “there is no actual damage after all”. So we clearly see the gap between two different approches, one is experiencing the existential turning point as a facet of alienation, whereas the other is analyzing it without its philosophical depth since its only a matter of a disease that has to be cured. Not being understood by anyone, Henri is thrown into a solitude that he does not seem to overcome it.
Whether social or psychological, the concept of normality is open to discussion since the legitimacy of the authority which decides where exactly is the border between normality and abnormality is uncertain. Skhizein leads us to think about this borders as well. It is interesting that Henri actually measures the distance (precisely ninety-one centimeters) between normality and madness. By calculating the unmeasurable, we sense a subtle irony in this film, which points out the mental, social and philosophical dephts of human mystery/misery. One wonders if this ninety-one centimeters is whether a mere symptom of a mental disorder or an existential dislocation which “normal” or not anyone may encounter.
Skhizein is an amazing film that has won seven awards. It pulls the audience into an abyss of the mental struggles by focusing on this bizarre and touching inner life of a man out of his mind. It’s an outstanding animation that definitely worths to watch over and over again!