Saturday, 23 June 2018

WATCHING: Over The Garden Wall (2014)

From the onset, a deep darkness pervades the heart of Over The Garden Wall, despite its jovial art style, songs, and goofiness. Akin to the nausea of many Folk Horror movies, there is much hidden within the forest, the Unknown, that the brothers get lost in, leaving us with a sense that they are not welcome there. Indeed, they fail to understand what they are witnessing, especially the older, more cautious brother Wirt, and his insistence on what he understands to be safety puts them in more trouble.

Starting much like Dante's The Divine Comedy, "I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost," Wirt (Elijah Wood) and Greg (Collin Dean) do not know how they've became lost, only that they shouldn't be. Like Dante's psychopomp Virgil, the boys are led along by a friend in the form of a bluebird called Beatrice (Melanie Lynskey), and go on to encounter more and more bizarre situations.

Wirt, the clarinet playing, poetry spouting melancholic, is the most anxious to leave, but also the quickest to give up. With so much at stake, and home never seeming to arrive on the horizon, he succumbs himself up to the idea of being lost, as if that is his new persona. Anyway, to face the hardship of speaking to the girl he fancies back home gradually seems more ludicrous to him. On the contrary, young Greg is full of the all the enthusiasm you'd expect a boy with a frog friend and a kettle hat to be full of. While Wirt may replete with the anxieties and histrionics of a teen (is it any wonder his hat is made to look like that of learned wizard and a dunce), Greg displays the ingeniousness of a child at play, using games to solve problems. He even explicitly delves into active imagination by asking how to solve a problem in his dreams in the episode "Babes in the Woods", a quality Wirt needs to learn if he is to embrace the Unknown.

A Herne the Hunter-esque monster called the Beast stalks the series, praying on the weak, lost and lonely, feigning solutions to their problems in order to sustain himself. Wirt has to learn to face his own darkness, and not hold onto the darkness of others, in a very Jungian finale, if he is to protect himself and his brother. While it is hinted that the events we see could of actually happened to Wirt and Greg, it doesn't matter so much as to understand that through these nightmarish and comical stories, full of folk tales and archetypes, Greg and Wirt actually encountered their problems symbolically, their own inner myths, enabling them to take their lessons into the "real" world.

Over The Garden Wall had my head buzzing with each brief episode, with so many fantastical moments realised with ease and delight, and never succumbing to pandering. The message can be clear and elusive, and the stories can be parables or plainly absurd. Watching the original short Tome of the Unknown, we are told that Wirt, Gregory and Beatrice are traveling through the dark woods to find esoteric knowledge, "a strange book containing all that has ever been forgotten". On the way they help a vegetable man find love and save a city from crows and turkey's through screaming. The short ends with Wirt, Gregory, Beatrice, and a new goose friend "traveling deeper and deeper and deeper into the unknown." Do they ever find the Tome of the Unknown? The question is left unanswered, but at least they got to help some people and have some fun. According to that continuously unfathomable adage, it's the journey, not the destination that matters. Perhaps it's best left to our imaginations to see how our heroes stories continue.

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