Finding ourselves in unique settings can alter our understanding of self. Sometimes, the mere shift to another environment allows us to become different people. After all, society may define us one way, but a different culture and perspective may view us in a completely different light. While onboard a transatlantic cargo ship, Christopher lets his mind and desires wander. Christopher At Sea comes from director Tom CJ Brown and should be the short that pushes him into the next stage of his career.

The animation on Christopher at Sea is something else. The characters move with a liquidity that is often afforded to water, ironic given the substance surrounding them in every direction. The fluidity of the characters blends into their characterizations. Animation styles are rarely able to tie directly into the themes of their narrative, as a house style is often preferred. However, Christopher at Sea uses this to explore its protagonist’s sexuality, personality, and changing perspectives.

It’s not solely the characters and clothing that shine (though they are gorgeous to look at). Nighttime sequences are stunning, and the use of smoke/steam provides unique visuals to inject every scene with movement. Brown also frames the short to interact with the environment. In some sequences, the audience can observe the ship’s rocking with the waves, while characters move freely without noticing. In others, the sunlight shifts in the room as time passes. These are subtle but stunning shots that place us within the scenes.

Christopher At Sea Sundance Film Festival 2023

Yet when the short reaches its final six minutes, Brown and his animation team take a big swing. Departing from the already gorgeous visuals they’ve established, the world shifts into an array of abstract art. Fantasy comes streaking into Christopher’s world, and the shot composition begins to resemble Moonlight and the works of Wong Kar-Wai. The images give themselves entirely over to bursts of passion. The animation in this section accomplishes something live-action rarely can, allowing bodies to bend and intertwine in unison. You cannot tell where one character, or a fantasy, begins.

In these final minutes, Christopher at Sea becomes an incredible artistic achievement. The animation alone would be praiseworthy. Blending these themes and ideas of sexual fluidity into the animation makes the concept inseparable from the art. Christopher at Sea is a brilliant work that could indicate Brown is a voice to be reckoned with in independent animation.

What did you think of Christopher at Sea? Let us know in the comments below! Christopher at Sea is playing in the Animation Short Film Program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

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