Texts act as keys in our everyday lives, opening the door to a plethora of human experiences that connect with us. That is their purpose, to capture and lure us in because they are a reflection of our own lives, actions, thoughts, and experiences. We take comfort in knowing that our own lives are illustrated in wider regard, and therefore empathized with on a broader scale. How many times have you finished reading a book feeling acknowledged and understood? By exposing ourselves with candor towards these texts, we place ourselves in their shoes, clutching onto an elevated awareness of individual and collective experiences, and how they can give way to the anomalies inconsistencies and paradoxes of human reactions and emotions to these experiences. We mold our perceptions and understandings of human experience from the experiences we view, taking away our personalized lesson from universal messages. For the purpose of this presentation, let us focus on two different texts that explore an array of human experiences while sharing the tone in which they convey them; being mature and realistic, and the differing human reactions and emotions that they display as a result of said experiences. The film ‘Ringing Bell’ directed by Masami Hata, and the poem ‘I Am’, written by John Clare.
The story of ‘Ringing Bell’ follows a naïve young lamb, both in the literal and poetic sense, named Chirin, who lives is a flock of sheep alongside his protective mother. Now I’ll be honest, when I first watched this movie, sure, I had heard some mildly concerning things, but I still thought it would be a somewhat benign children’s film with the classic good always triumphs evil message. Well, I quickly learnt that this was not at all the case when Chirins’ mother is killed by the wolf king, in which the film from then on takes a sharp shift in tone, as he decides to kill the wolf, but instead begins training under him. This film explores a multitude of dark human experiences with a strict no sugar-coating attitude woven throughout.
One such human experience is the experience of identity, arguably the most important and personal human experience we can deal with. Humans have an overwhelming need to hold a strong idea of identity, one that gives us a sense of direction and brings meaning to our lives. But what truly determines our identity? Is it status, is it something ingrained within you from birth, or is it you? Do we ourselves have the power to choose our own identity? Would we even have enough freedom to do so? This exploration of identity begins with the death of Chirins mother, which causes him to question his societies way of life as he spurs into a sense of powerlessness. Chirin concludes that the reason his kind live a futile life is that they are weak. And so, he seeks out a new identity, one that he believes will bring him great power and authority. ‘Ringing Bell’ heavily utilizes the literary technique of anthropomorphism to convey this human experience. Sheep and wolves are traditional representations of good and bad respectively. However, the film challenges this notion, as instead, the wolf becomes a mentorial figure to Chirin, while Chirin himself becomes the physical manifestation of evil, besting the only superior animal during the climax of the film.
This incorporates another aspect of identity, the identity that is placed upon us by others. Chirin does not believe that he is a evil, only that he has done what he has had to so he can achieve power. However, those surrounding him do not see his motives, only what he has become. After working towards becoming his newfound self, it becomes apparent that it has affected Chirin physically as well, morphing into a wolf/ram hybrid, a metaphor for his identity becoming blurred as well. His long legs, lupine silhouette, constricted pupils and horns that, instead of curling like a rams’, point outwards like daggers, make it clear that this once innocent lamb has now become a fearsome creature. When I first saw Chirins new appearance, I struggled to realise that it was him. He has changed so much that it’s as if Chirin no longer exists, the only thing linking him to him past identity being his name and his bell, which I will discuss later. This adds another layer to the films’ portrayal of identity, as through this technique, it shows that although we may believe that identity is not completely ingrained within us, it is a choice of which we have limited control over. Although Chirin has dedicated his life to change who he is, he has not been able to completely do so and thus has been stuck in a sort of identity purgatory. The use of this technique challenges our understanding about what it means to have an identity, utilizing an unconventional take to illuminate a view that identity cannot be changed.
Visual techniques such as tone and colour are an essential part of this film’s portrayal of the evolution of Chirins identity. The use of tone and colour in the film is manipulated to parallel the changes in Chirin experiences. The first half of the film displays bright lighting and cool coloured tones that convey its overall feel, one of happiness and serenity. However, as the events in the film become increasingly grimmer, the tone of the film begins to also change. During his training, the same colour palate as earlier scenes, suggesting that Chirin had not yet lost who he is. However, with his first appearance as an adult, the scene is now overflowing with shades of oranges, browns and greys provide a stark contrast to a film earlier filled with light blues, greens and yellows. Signifying that Chirin is now unequivocally changed, he still holds his bell around his neck, perhaps to say that there is still a part of his old self in there, which we learn is true, but not enough to ever again become who he once was. Instead of standing out against his surroundings as he once did, Chirin now seamlessly blends in, just a predator should. But is this an accurate representation of human behaviours? Is our sense of identity so ingrained with ourselves, that if we were to attempt to go against it, we would fall prey to the same fate as Chirin?
Connection is an intrinsic human experience. The human need to feel included, whether it be by family or by community, is one that can heavily drive actions. Connection is explored through Chirins connection with his society, or lack thereof. His disassociation with his society is highlighted in the fact that does not go to his own kind for consolement, but rather seeks out the very creature that killed his mother, choosing to live with him and coming to admire him. Showcasing just how much of his understanding of identity was shaped by his mother, as he does not understand what is wrong with his actions. But how could someone abandon their own home like that? Well, its because Chirin never truly had a strong link to his community to begin with.
In of the beginning of the film, it is made clear that he finds more enjoyment in being alone and spending time with other animals then he does with his people. In fact, he never truly interacts with anyone from his society that isn’t his mother. The only link was his mother, and once that was severed, he had no reason to remain in a community which he viewed as weak, even though he had grown up with them, when he could become something much stronger. For Chirin, power became more important that community, signifying the first major change in his identity.
Once he has killed his superior, Chirin attempts to re-join his people, to which they swiftly reject him, despite his efforts to convince them that he too was once one of them. The film utilises visual juxtaposition to highlight just how different Chirin now is. His matted grey coat, striking similar to that of the wolves, and piercing horns, provide harsh contrast to their soft silhouettes, white coats and small physique. Narration is used to further support this idea, as the film firmly states that “what they saw standing before them was neither wolf nor sheep, but some kind of unknown creature.” He is no longer recognised by who he is, but by the emotions he invokes. Thus, Chirin becomes an anomaly among nature with no home. This reflects human behaviors as people too, in an attempt to change themselves, can lose complete sense of who they are. The journey of Chirin, from ‘good’, to ‘evil’, to once again wanting to be ‘good’ again highlights the paradoxical nature of his journey, as he has wished for connection amongst an ideal that he once despised. This mirrors our own actions, as we too sometimes find ourselves reverting to the past to feel acceptance again. This film makes a deliberate attempt at addressing serious human experiences maturely. The film at first sells itself as a harmless child’s film, easily being able to continue doing so, but instead chooses to address harshly realistic subjects. The film just as easily could have ended with Chirin being reaccepted into society, but instead, it chooses not to, thus spotlighting the meaningful nature of human experiences and how they, along with the actions and emotions they evoke, can have devastating life-altering consequences.
The poem ‘I Am’ was written in 1844 by John Clare while in a mental institute. The poem deals with the human experiences of connection and isolation in a sobering way, detailing Clare’s intense feelings of loneliness, as he feels secluded from his friends, whom no longer care for him, and feels as though his life has fallen apart.
The human experience isolation is one that can have devastating effects on individuals. Although we may not have experience isolation to this extent, we can still relate to feelings of being ignored and forgotten. It is this isolation that drives Clares thought process throughout the poem. By just naming the poem ‘I Am,’ he piques our interest, inviting us to question his identity further and learn more about him, perhaps because nobody in his day to day life does. The first stanza heavily focuses on his feelings of loneliness and seclusion, as he continually states that his friends have abandoned him.
The repetition of ‘I am’ throughout the poem is used is a self-assuring manner. Even though his friends treat him as though he were dead, he insists on reinstating that he is indeed still alive, even though the actions of those around him have made him feel otherwise. It is as though he must validate his existence to be noticed. The first time ‘I am’ is used, it is just a simple statement about his existence, while the ones following imply that he has a specific identity that interests nobody. The fact that he must repeat this insinuates that he is not certain of his self either. These stanzas incorporate a variety of long vowels: woes, throes, esteems, dreams, neither and stranger to further support this idea. Long vowels take longer to pronounce than short vowels; they seem alive, while short vowels seem cut-off or dead. Clare’s need to continually remind himself and others of who he is highlights how isolation can result in the questioning of oneself, and how it can deeply impact the perceptions we hold of ourselves, and the perceptions others hold over us.
Connection is once again explored in Clare’s poem ‘I Am.’ The need to connect is one that can sometimes feel overwhelming to us. Connection can come in the form of connection to self, such as religion or ethnicity, or connection to our surroundings, the people all around us. Humans thrive off of connection, with it, comes a sense of warmth, security and validation. This human experience is manifested in the poem through Clare’s lack of connection, and his eventual solution to this problem. In the poem, Clare feels abandoned by the world he lives in, his friends have neglected him and his life is in ruins. However, the third stanza almost feels as though we are listening to a prayer, as he pronounces his want to find an escape with God, taking a calm and tranquil tone in comparison to the overflow of emotion in the previous stanzas. The use of sibilance in the words: smiled, sleep, sweetly slept and grass contribute to this effect, giving the final six lines a soothing, almost dreamy quality that perfectly mimics the death the speaker desires. This stanza employs biblical allusions to convey Clare’s longing for departure, for somewhere away from humanity. In the last lines, he reflects on his childhood where life was untroubled. ‘The grass below – and above the vaulted sky’ speaks of a natural Cathedral, where he held a strong union with God, that perhaps went unnoticed in his youth, but is now realised as something of remarkable importance to one’s life.
This human experience brings to light the ingrained inconsistencies of human behaviours when compared to ‘Ringing Bell’. While Chirin looks to his past to find connection, Clare has given up on that part of his life, and instead turns to a possible future. He no longer seeks connection with others, but with his inner spirituality instead. This poem has elevated my understanding of the importance of the different aspect of texts. The context of ‘I Am’ proves to be invaluable in understanding the poem, as without it, we might only believe that it is about a lonely man who seeks to build a connection with his Creator. However, in knowing that the poem was written while Clare was unsuccessful as a writer, and admitted in a mental institute, we become aware of the deeper meaning it holds. Of how it does not just refer to loneliness, but isolation, and that the wanted connection with God may be referring to something else. Both texts explore the same experience with differing results, one being isolation and the other inner peace. But what does that say about the human experience? Is our level of connection to ourselves and our surroundings something that we place upon ourselves just as Chirin has? Or is it, like Clare, something we have no control over but nevertheless fall victim too?
Thus, texts act as a medium in sharing with us human experiences that represent our true selves, our reactions, emotions and perspectives in aspects of human life that are ubiquitous. Consequently, texts such as ‘Ringing Bell’ and ‘I Am’ allow us to connect to these human experiences, in levels that are personal to our unique context. These two texts, written in completely different times, reflect how universal and eternal human experiences are. Both Chirin and the poet go through similar human experiences but come about them in different ways, while also displaying dissimilar emotions and reactions, thus displaying the experiential inconsistencies within human experiences.
These two texts have shaped my knowledge of the common module by not just showing me how human experiences can be incorporated within a story to convey a lesson, but that the tone of how these experiences are communicated can shift to bring about an even more meaningful message, one that connects with the audience on a realistic level. The shared experience of connection found within both texts, but the differing approaches that they take spotlights the fluid an inconsistent nature of human experiences. But in stating that the human experience is dynamic, it brings to question the level of control we hold over said experiences. is it a product of predestination? Or is it the result of our own choices, a culmination of our previous actions and emotions that have led to us living through and connecting with these experiences?