There’s nothing more important than your loved ones, but what do you do when you have no one to love? In I Lost My Body, we learn the lengths that people, and even appendages, are willing to go to for human connection. The story centers on Naoufel, a boy with audacious dreams. When asked by his parents what he will be when he grows up, he declares he will be a pianist AND an astronaut, surely a dual-threat that has never existed.
However, his parents attempt to push him towards his dreams despite how lofty they are. With his mom, Naoufel learns to play various instruments, including the cello. His father teaches him geography and urges Naoufel to prioritize his studies. His parents even gift him a tape recorder to document all of the moments his imagination runs wild. But before Naoufel can hit the road towards rapturous success, tragedy hits his family. Meanwhile, we follow the journey of a severed hand which, after escaping a lab, goes on the hunt for it’s owner. But this adventure includes various run-ins with different animals and obstacles, as the hand tries to stay alive.
We eventually follow Naoufel into adulthood, where depression and lack of drive has led him to a job as a pizza delivery guy, a role in which he’s not very good at. Nonetheless, this job leads him to an encounter with Gabrielle, who he quickly falls for. It becomes clear that Gabrielle is the key to Naoufel’s happiness. But his methods towards courting her are controversial.
I Lost My Body was originally released in 2019 to great acclaim and several awards wins, including the Annie Award for Best Independent Animated film. While it was little seen by the general public, it’s easy to see what inspired the great critical reception. It’s unique premise, combined with a visual style that blends the realism of everyday life with explicit fantasy, is arresting from the very beginning. There’s a dreamy, slightly melancholy tone that rises to poetic elation during the film’s most triumphant moments.
However, this is not a happy-go-lucky, sunshine and rainbows story. While the film is gorgeous, the content is at times brutal. In addition, Naoufel gets put through the wringer throughout the entire runtime. He’s not a perfect person by any means, and there’s plenty to critique about his decision making, but his journey is wrought with considerable trauma. By the end of it, most viewers will just want to give the guy a hug.
So what does I Lost My Body have to say about it’s lead protagonist and the legacy of pain? This is clearly a story where the remedy to trauma is love and connection, but the catch is those things are so hard to acquire. We see Naoufel setting his life on a definitive path, during a time where he has the support of a complete family. However, unforeseen circumstances sets him on a wildly different path. The movie aims to grant him another chance at love and belonging.
It’s clear that there is an equilibrium that must be sought in order to achieve happiness. Success and love are intertwined, and one often needs the other in order to flourish. For Naoufel, not only does he have an opportunity to achieve both, but he has the chance to kill two birds with one stone. However, the film pivots and introduces a thesis on chance and fate. Naoufel confides in Gabrielle the notion that you can leave your past if you make a drastic action that changes your course of destiny, in a way “fooling” fate. It’s unclear if Gabrielle agrees with his assessment, but by the end of the film she has this thesis demonstrated for her.
However, I was disappointed with how little Gabrielle was utilized as a character. For someone whose such a key goal for the main character, we know little about her besides the fact that she cares for her ailing father. While she and Naoufel have chemistry, the love story fails to satiate because it is underdeveloped. But the movie seems less interested in a traditional love story, and more interested in a mediation on chance.
When it’s over, we learn not only how the past can set us on the wrong course, but how the victims can be so determined to forget what has scarred them. This is a movie about the scars, the literal and the figurative. It doesn’t offer definitive answers on fate, determinism, or freewill. But the film does offers a theory, a chance to change our path for the better. This requires to take great leaps, and to know where you’ll land afterwards. It’s an optimistic ending to a somewhat bleak story, but that’s a maturity we may all need.