In many ways, Luca, the new Pixar film, is the most important child of the pandemic baby boom.
The Viewfinder is a bi-monthly column by writer and critic Rahul Desai, which examines films through a personal lens.
It’s the 50’s, and a sweet young sea monster lives off the coast of Italy with his parents. It is forbidden to swim to the surface; humans hunt its species. But then he meets a vibrant sea monster, who introduces him to the quirks of humanity. Together, the two unlikely friends leave the water, sneak into town, and embark on a warm coming-of-age journey. In many ways, Luca, the new Pixar movie, is the most important child of the pandemic baby boom. At first glance, the premise has nothing to do with COVID-19[female[feminine . But design is a latent consequence. The film carries the cunning of a tender slice of life dramatic comedy, but its composition is odd.
For example, little Luca and his aquatic house symbolize the language of confinement: creatures are defined by their fear of what they cannot see. The air looks intimidating. The location is a nod to the virus’ devastating beginnings in the west: the collapse of healthcare in Italy in 2020 was after all a wake-up call to the rest of the planet. The central rule of Luca – that sea monsters transform into human versions of themselves when they are dry – evokes the freedom to break quarantine. From the start, Alberto teaches Luca how to walk and blend in with the idyllic surroundings – a nice riff on how so many of us have had to relearn the most basic aspects of existence. Even the film’s man-creature conflict, steeped in exaggerations of urban legend and deeply rooted racism, is a lively allegory of the European migrant crisis – a return to a pre-Covid universe, when illegal immigration was treated as nothing less than a cultural epidemic. (It is no coincidence that water – the medium of countless capsized tragedies – is believed to seal the fate of misunderstood monsters.)
Several scenes feature the two friends gazing wonderfully at the sky and their surroundings. Luca is eager to study the solar system and the stars. Their childish gaze is a reminder of the alluring world – the reward – that we fight to relive. Then there are the disarming issues of Luca: a celebration of the simple pleasures of life. For example, Luca and Alberto’s main ambition – the driving force behind this story – is to buy a Vespa and travel the world. The Portorosso Cup Race, the city’s annual event, is a triathlon showcasing three ‘skills’ that summon the glory of the great outdoors: swimming, biking and eating pasta. Giulia, the little girl who shelters the two misfits, is the kind of summer vacation friend that most children dream of making: she teaches them the paths of civilization, keeps their secrets and encourages them to challenge them. secular prejudices of the fishing village. Even Luca’s loving parents – who spend much of the film desperately searching for their son, wetting the skin of puzzled children – become the original embodiment of a vaccination campaign.
Cathartic metaphors aside, Luca also reveals a more primitive tale of nostalgia. The film preaches harmony in its forever bliss – with the two sea monsters winning the race, humiliating the arrogant villain and widening the hearts of hesitant townspeople. But it was the Luca-Alberta equation that really touched me. Their bow reflects a bittersweet truth. In the end, the heartbreaking Alberto sells the Vespa Prize so Luca can afford a good school in a better location. So that Luca can grow as he deserves. Given the film’s title, the sweet protagonist is one whose big city future is made possible by a necessary relationship. Even Alberto wins his evolutionary curve – he is adopted by Giulia’s worker father, he finds a family and an identity. But the lasting impression is that of Alberto remained in the pond while Luca, our brilliant hero, sets out to conquer the vast ocean. The end credits show Luca in Genoa, dazzling humans with his monster magic and studying astronomy with future wife Giulia.
That is to say: Luca and Alberto’s boyfriend film ends up sacrificing himself on the altar of adulthood. Their friendship is not a place but a time.
Growing up in a small town, I aspired to be a Luca. I was shy, cautious and risk averse. My parents weren’t strict, but I felt deeply protected. If carefree classmates waded through a puddle, I would stand in a corner and smile. If they were planning a prank on a teacher, I opted for the fear of being caught and punished. As a result, the few friends I had automatically assumed the role of Alberto in my life. And I needed it. They became the ones who pushed me, little by little, out of my cozy shell – out of the cold water and into the immense infinity of sunny landscapes and limitless possibilities. They helped me dream of Vespas, triathlons, humanity and stars. I was the hero of my story, the shy creature powered by the energy of playful souls. It turned out that I was one of the first teenagers to leave my hometown for a big city. In my head, maybe that was what my friends had prepared me for. The more fiery had taught me to run, even though I felt like I was leaving them behind. Maybe that was their role – to help me fly, to be the wind under my stiff wings. I never looked back.
I made new friends in the big city. Mumbai has become my Genoa. It took me a while to adjust, but the adrenaline of discovering a different sky kept me going. Each morning promised several evenings. I settled in, eager to extend the film beyond its end credits. But it wasn’t long before something occurred to me. Most of the people I met were also past their childhood to come here. Culture shock made us all – creatures of habit – go wide-eyed together. Most of them also prospered through social acceptance and integration. The inhabitants in turn were fascinated by the authentic color and texture (skins) of their personalities. In short, I was no longer the only Luca. A thousand adventures collided and jostled for space. I wondered if they all had an Alberto behind their jump. And I wondered if they could identify with their Alberto any longer.
Over the years, however, a common joke has taken shape. Every time I found my comfort zone, it turned into a memory. Every close friend I made tended to move from a big city to a big country. One left for Boston, another for Dubai, another for Chicago, another for London. And I stayed in Mumbai, stranded in the wake of the soaring flights. Just like that, the roles had turned: I was now a passing phase in other lives. Most of us are so busy becoming a lavish Luca that we end up becoming an Alberto along the way. Self-pity set in: was it me? If so, what prompted dreamers to view Mumbai more as a stopover than a destination?
But when they visited, we were frolicking around town and retreading those past summers. They spoke in my tone, and asked me about the place they left instead of talking about the space they adopted. They had been gone – and in motion – for so long that, from their perspective, my static figure was one in constant motion.
Over time, I learned that it was all about perspective. Let’s say the movie was called Alberto – we then get the story of a wanderer locating his roots with a little help from his friends. The city might as well be another planet for him once he finds a sense of belonging. I also learned that the facilitator of one story could be the protagonist of another. Even the disappearance of romantic relationships invokes the illusion that one partner is left behind while the other takes flight; this one is a restless Luca, while the other is an altruistic Alberto. Yet it is not so much humanity that is divided into these two distinct characters as the humans themselves who can incubate these two roles at the same time.
The pandemic has only cemented this duality. To stay is to go and to go away is to stay.
The same friends who moved like Luca also struggled to cope with the implications of feeling “left behind” upon returning to their hometown as Alberto. I was left behind like Alberto, but I also found myself navigating the novelty of a big city like Luca. In the process, friendships were both reduced and elevated in places – all the while getting rid of the parameters of time. Above all, living has become the motto of survival, and breathing the expression of hope: everyone is both a fish out of the water and a human renewing the perception of the earth. We are no longer people in a movie, we are the whole movie.
The Alberto in each of us still wants to build a Vespa for the Luca chained inside us. But not to travel the world. To perhaps stroll quietly in the neighborhood and reconnect with the simple pleasures: the stars, the wind, the streets and the humans who see monsters in the mirror. After all, the home is where the art is.
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