Mats Grorud’s The Tower is a film I admire strongly. While I do have some issues with some of its scenes and how they’re directed, I can get past that in the face of what it manages to accomplish with its ideas. One idea in particular has always stood out to me, and that is how it uses different styles of animation to represent different points of time and points of view.
Some context: The Tower takes place on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of Israel, an event which forced nearly a million Palestinians out of their homes. In a Lebanese refugee camp, a young girl named Wardi ascends the tower block she calls home and asks her relatives about their experiences in an attempt to better understand why her grandfather handed her a key he used to wear around his neck.
By its nature, the movie features scenes taking place in the present and the past, so it chooses to depict them through distinct styles of animation. The present-day scenes are done with stop-motion animation, with characters rendered as dolls similar to those from Ivor Wood’s TV shows; while the past is rendered with 2D animation, albeit with automatic in-betweening as opposed to more traditional frame-by-frame movement.
Apart from making it easy to understand what point in time we’re at, the choice of medium also informs how these respective scenes are framed. By using stop-motion animation and therefore fully built sets and characters, the world of the present day has a very tangible feeling not seen in the past segments. In turn, the more stylized and abstracted presentation of the flashbacks fits the subjective memories of Wardi’s relatives.
That subjectivity is particularly relevant, as The Tower also has scenes in which the past is represented through live-action footage and photographs of real people. What makes this interesting is that this is only done in the context of news reports and pictures taken by the characters, which suggests a more “objective” reality than the subjective animated recollections. It’s a fascinating idea to use not just different artstyles, but different mediums to convey the contrast between personal realities (Wardi’s relatives) and a supposedly correct reality (TV broadcasts).
However, representing the “truth” takes on a deeper meaning during the film’s strongest sequence, in which Wardi and her aunt look through a photo album full of various pictures of their family, and talk about them. We’ve seen these characters and talked with them throughout the film, but the pictures look nothing like them. Instead, they are pictures of real people who grew up in the refugee camps – the same people whose experiences inspired director Mats Grorud to make this movie.
At this point, it becomes abundantly clear that while the characters seen in the film are fictional, their experiences are based in reality; on real people. To understand that helps to understand the intention behind depicting the present, the subjective past and the objective past through their respective mediums: to create empathy and understanding.
Wardi spends the film talking to her relatives, learning more about them and how their lives were affected by the last 50 years of the Palestine-Israeli diaspora. She grows to understand their perspectives, expressed through animated memories, and takes them into consideration with the live-action snapshots and recordings that present different perspectives on the same events.
In the same way, we grow to understand the experiences of the people they represent – those who lived through similar circumstances – while taking them into consideration with the countless points of view that exist from other people and constructs that attempt to be more “objective”, such as news reports, history books, and even summaries of the past like the one in this very article.
It can be hard to truly understand a group of people whose circumstances you may not be familiar with or comprehend; even the population of a whole country. The Tower understands this, and instead creates representations of these people in order to create a personal connection to the viewer and help them to understand. As fictional characters, the experiences aren’t going to line up in a literal 1:1 fashion with any individual, but the underlying emotions resonate strongly.
I can speak to that myself because, as embarrassing as I feel saying this, I never actually knew what the Palestine-Israeli diaspora was until I saw this film. I was always vaguely aware of the concept but nothing more, and I assumed that it was something so monstrously complicated that nobody could understand it. However, I do understand now what happened, because of this film.
And in a way, I feel much like Wardi does. She’s only a child, and not in a position to meaningfully change circumstances right now, but she can at least understand and empathize with those around her. And sometimes, that’s all I can do – that’s all anyone can do. Just listen to people, understand where they’re coming from, and empathize with their hopes and struggles.
It’s not a lot, but it means a lot.
Special thanks to Nobaddy for looking over the article and giving constructive feedback, and massive special thanks to nyy, who provided the screenshots featured in this article.
FrDougal9000 writes for hardcoregaming101.net as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.