Brendan Byrne ’22
Jack Stauber is a music artist/filmmaker who’s made himself known on platforms like Youtube for his surreal, and often frightening style of stop motion animation, his unique music genre that many say he has entirely to himself, and his often dark, and intensely thought provoking themes in his media. He focuses on the topics of existentialism and the darkest parts of life and the human psyche, and it is the fusion of his remarkable style, deep themes, and strangely catchy music that make him such an attractive artist for the online community to flock to. Recently, Stauber embarked on one of his biggest projects yet. In association with Adult Swim, he created a short film that speaks on the darkness of living in a hopeless and pain filled household, a short film called Opal.
The characters of Opal exemplify different factors of some of the worst in people, the worst which develops from a life of unhappiness and hopelessness, in an environment that is not only filled with, but conditions such things. There are four main characters in Opal, Opal herself, and the members of the family that resides in the house across the street, the house which we learn at the end is where Opal actually lives, and who her family actually is; where we learn that her name is Claire and her life shown at the beginning of the story is merely imagined, as a coping mechanism for the personal hell that she lives in.
The first character we are shown, besides Opal herself, is her grandfather. When Opal is experiencing part of her break from reality, she enters her own house thinking that it’s this mysterious place across the street where she shouldn’t go, where she is trying to investigate this mournful wailing from the attic window, and she wanders into the house’s living room. Here, with garbage strewn across the floor, and smoke filling the air, a large, old, blind man sitting in a recliner in front of a tv calls out to her, telling her to bring him his cigarettes.
The grandfather’s irrationality and paranoia are symptoms developed from the immense, crushing loneliness that he feels as he sits in front of this tv each and every day. He drinks beers and smokes cigarettes as he sits in front of a screen that he can’t even see. One of the lines epitomizing the character that Stauber is trying to portray here is “It’s evil to help people who don’t want to be helped, Claire”.
The paranoia he holds about her hiding his addiction from him so that he can’t satiate it, combined with this uncontrollable desire and the vindictive nature of what he suffers from leads to him becoming a resentful, manipulative, and regretful shell of a man. The deep regret, and pain for his current state that the grandfather holds within him is seen in full-show during his song, where he continues to touch back on the line “Tell me, why does it sound so easy to breathe on TV?”.
It is a desperate plea, as the grandfather’s health continues to worsen because of his smoking habit and sedentary lifestyle. He can hardly get through a verse of the song without gasping for air, and it displays the pathetic being that he has become, and what it has turned him into.
The second character given to us as we progress through the tragic story of Opal is the father, a full blown narcissist who’s self obsession turns to god complex, the further our view of the conversation goes. As Claire passes by his door, he calls out to her, immediately putting her down by talking about how she never gives him the time of day, and commenting on her wardrobe, admonishing her appearance. He insults her shoes and ankles, all he can see of her past the mirrors, in order to put himself on a higher pedestal.
The father, as we see through his door, sits in a room plastered with mirrors on every wall and standing around him, showcasing every single angle of his face and body to himself. The only things in his room that aren’t mirrors are beauty supplies and other instruments of cosmetic adjustment. The extent of his narcissism continues, as we transfer from dialogue into song.
The song is where we see the appeal to the deep and unshakable insecurity that is present in the minds of self-obsessed narcissists. “They turned me down, now I live my nightmare.” is a line that explains it near perfection. His very nightmare, what scares him most, is not being seen for his looks, for his appearance and the work he puts into it. He lives every day obsessing over himself because he believes to be worthy of praise, adulation, obsession. He compares himself to a savior, to a god even, showing the endless extents that a narcissistic individual can go to.
The final character we are introduced to, as Claire approaches the source of the mournful wailing that she came into the home to investigate in the first place, is her mother. Claire’s mother acts as the peak of emotional manipulation, abuse, and the desperation for control seen in those who truly have none. She is the ideal example of a victim turned perpetrator, someone who lacked control in her own life because of her own victimization, the abuse dealt to her, and turned to escapism and abuse of her own to gain some sense of power.
What the mother is most responsible for, when it comes to the mistreatment of Claire is the attempt to put the two of them into the same boat. She wishes to bring Claire down to the same level as her, the same feeling of being trapped and suffering from some perceived inescapable pain. She says things like “You and I don’t live Claire, we survive.” which not only expresses her pain to Claire, but groups the two of them together in a way where it seems like Claire has no other option but to be there for her mother, something exemplified in the mother’s song of selfishness.
Lines like “Mama needs a little girl to land on” shows that she thinks of her child as a sort of tool for helping her, saving her in a sense. The entire song speaks of the kind of child she believes that she needs, seen to her as her only option, because of how trapped she feels in the facade of a home that she lives in. Escapism, too, exists in the lifestyle of the mother, as it does in the lifestyles of everyone in the house. We see empty pill and wine bottles scattered across the uncleaned and disorganized room, signals of depression and the inability to cope.
The mother, herself, is a victim, but that does not excuse the victimization of her own child as a way to ease that pain. The final character whom we realize the struggle of is the first character that we meet, Opal, Claire herself. Claire is the victim of this horrid and abusive, emotionally unstable and damaging household. She is the child of these people, and has been chosen as the target for much of their resent and pain, in redirection. Claire is manipulated, used, and hurt, and explainably she has her own coping mechanisms to deal with, and escape the home.
Escapism is a common theme among every character of Opal and thus, it would make sense that the framing piece for the story itself would be escapism. Claire escapes into a fantasy, in which she is Opal, the child of a loving family whom she pictures from a billboard that stands out her window. She retreats into this world when she’s scared, when she’s in pain, and again, at the end of the story, she once more finds herself in this fantasy realm. It is an escape for a home that she can’t escape, and it is a way to avoid becoming like the ones that make her suffer so.
Such abuse in a household is something that, so unfortunately, more people than we are aware of, or even ever will be aware of, deal with. Unhealthy households are an issue that damages such a large amount of people, and Opal displays the realities of it in full force. Stauber’s unsettling art style and music only exemplify the very factors of such a household, and we can only hope for the best for every victim of this abuse. We can only hope that people who mirror the character of Claire are able to escape these places, and find themselves free, not in a fantasy, but in their own reality.