Consuming Spirits is a dark and depressing delight

Chris Sullivan, Consuming Spirits, 2012
Chris Sullivan, Consuming Spirits, 2012
Courtesy Chris Sullivan

You've never seen a cartoon like this. Consuming Spirits, an animated feature film by MCAD grad Chris Sullivan, is a masterpiece employing multiple techniques including animated models, multi-plane paper cutouts, and traditional pencil-drawn cartoons. It took the artist 15 years to make the film, and it's no wonder why. The level of detail is astounding, so much so that it almost doesn't matter what the story is, you're so mesmerized by the movement that's happening on the screen. 

Chris Sullivan, Consuming Spirits, 2012
Chris Sullivan, Consuming Spirits, 2012
Courtesy Chris Sullivan

There is a story, of course. It's a rather Faulkner-esque one that ends with a melodramatic flourish. It's not told in a linear way -- at least until the very end, when all loose ends are tied. 

We are introduced to Miss Gentian Violet, a lonely bus driver who also works for the local paper and enjoys singing at her local bar. She lives with her mother, who is dirty-mouthed, frequently nude, and bald, and interferes with Miss Violet's dating prospects by shouting out things like, "Let him take off your underpants, it drives him nuts." 

Miss Violet is dating Victor Blue, who also works for the paper and who almost every night drinks himself to a stupor and gets pulled over by the cops. At some point, he learns that the car he drives, which belonged to his father, isn't legally his because no death certificate for his father exists. That leads Victor onto a journey that reveals his past -- if he's ready to be open to it. 

The third main character is Earl Gray, the smooth-voiced radio announcer who hosts a late-night program called "Gardener's Corner" where he gives advice to his listeners about dealing with wandering deer, and the medicinal value of different plants. 
Poster for Consuming Spirits, 2012
Poster for Consuming Spirits, 2012
Courtesy Chris Sullivan

These three people are tied to each other at the beginning of the story after a late-night incident with a wandering nun, who suffers a nearly fatal accident. But the film reveals even deeper connections between them as well.  

This is a film about loneliness, about yearning for human connection, yearning for desire, love, and family. Taking place in a small town in the Appalachians, it depicts a rather sad and pathetic existence. And yet, there is a glimmer of hope as well, especially in the character of Miss Violet, the practical one who never gives up no matter how bad it gets. 

The artwork reveals the deep sorrow in the eyes and body language of the characters, and while there's a clear narrative, there's some lovely abstraction going on in the animation as well. Particularly interesting is Sullivan's use of animal imagery throughout the story.  

It's quite a long movie, and about halfway through you might find yourself trying to adjust in your seat, especially since the narrative jumps around so much that it can be a bit confusing as to where it's going. That's why the ending, with its big reveal, is so satisfying.  

This one's a winner. It'll make you feel depressed afterwards, but in a good way.


Consuming Spirits
Walker Art Center
7:30 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday

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Walker Art Center

1750 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403


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