Coraline: The Real, the Ideal and the Substance of our Lives
Coraline is a recent movie, ostensibly geared to children. Nonetheless, it tells a story deeply rooted in the realities of soul. In that sense, its story is of deep relevance to all of us.
The film itself is something of a visual wonder. It is an exercise in 3-D stop motion photography, giving a film experience that certainly I have never had before. It’s a very rich and imaginative world that is created, based on a story of fantasy and science fiction writer Neil Gaiman.
Coraline is a girl of about ten years of age, whose family moves from Michigan to “the Pink Palace Apartments”, a big pink house near the mountains. She is undergoing a difficult time accepting some of the realities of her life. Her parents seem totally absorbed in their work as writers, and both the house and the environment in which she lives seem uninteresting and lacking in vitality. Even the food she has to eat seems singularly boring and unappetizing.
In the midst of the house into which her family has moved, Coraline discovers a portal into another world. In that world she discovers her “other Mother” and “other Father”, who are, in essence, perfect, and geared to meeting all of Coraline’s needs. All the inhabitants of this world are more vivid, more interesting, more what Coraline would want them to be, with the one odd exception that they all have doll-like eyes made from buttons.
Everything in this tiny parallel world seems ideal, and Coraline is highly tempted to flee to it to live in the realm of her “other Mother” forever. But then she learns that the price of admission for entry to this world: she must give up her own real eyes, and have a pair of doll-like button eyes sewed into her eyes in their place, and then she will be imprisoned in the witch’s world permanently. With the help of an unusual cat, she is able to escape the witch’s realm, and free her real parents from her grip.
Like Coraline, sometimes the outline of our own real lives is something that we would rather not see, and in which we would rather not live. Perhaps we don’t find it meaningful. There can be a seductiveness to seeing things in our lives as the way that we wish they were, rather than the way that they are. We willingly make the trade, and give up our own real eyes for illusory eyes that willing get caught up in the spider’s web of illusion. It is not without significance that the witch mother, seemingly so ideal, turns out to be a monstrous spider who devours the souls of her victims. The ancient eastern symbol for Maya, or illusion, is the spider’s web.
It’s the cat — the ancient symbol for authentic feminine instinct — that is Coraline’s aid and guide out of the witch world. Through the earthy reality of the cat, Coraline finds her way back to her reality, which, once the seduction of “the ideal” or “what could be” is removed, turns out to be much more vital and alive than at first appeared.
It often takes real courage to give up our illusions and to live in the real non-idealized world that we actually inhabit. It can take real strength to engage that world, and really dwell in it, rather than allowing fantasies of idealized possibilities to keep us hovering above our real lives. We all know people whose lives never get grounded, who are always flitting from one idealized goal or dream to another, but who are never able to actualize any of their dreams or realize any of their aspirations in the real world. Perhaps we recognize those tendencies in ourselves.
The spider-witch can keep us so caught up Maya web to such an extent that we never materialize our projects, never really go after the things we really need in our lives, and perhaps we are never satisfied with our lovers, children or friends, and we always are looking for the “next great thing”.
An important part of therapy can be finding ways to get “down to earth”, and to really grapple with the lives and the selves that we actually have. Like Coraline, we have to free ourselves from the witch’s enchantment, and really live — right here, right now.
I highly recommend this wonderful, charming movie!
My very best wishes to each of you on your individual journeys to wholeness,
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Directed by Henry Selick; written by Mr. Selick, based on the book by Neil Gaiman; director of photography, Pete Kozachik; edited by Christopher Murrie and Ronald Sanders; music by Bruno Coulais; production designer, Mr. Selick; produced by Mr. Selick, Bill Mechanic, Claire Jennings and Mary Sandell; released by Focus Features.
WITH THE VOICES OF: Dakota Fanning; Teri Hatcher Jennifer Saunders; Dawn French; Keith David; John Hodgman; Robert Bailey Jr.; and Ian MacShane.
PHOTO CREDITS: © LAIKA
© 2009 Brian Collinson