Why We Love Shelter — and You Should Too
Welcome to Bi-Weebly, FilmDispenser’s bi-weekly column about all things anime and occasionally manga brought to you by the site’s very own stand-in weeb himself, Pat!
NOTE: If you haven’t seen Shelter yet, watch it now. It’s only six minutes long and absolutely worth every second of your time. I am going to spoil everything in this article. You’ve been warned.
I like great stories.
The medium doesn’t matter much to me; I’ll watch something produced via Claymation with just as much enthusiasm as I would a classic noir film. But because of cultural differences and an (initial) unfamiliarity with the art style, anime has long been one of my favorite ways to consume a story.
I’ve seen a lot of anime. I’ve seen good anime, bad anime, and why-was-this-made anime. I’ve also seen anime that leaves me stunned and wanting more.
I lead with all this to say that when something leaves me completely, utterly speechless, it’s good. It’s really good.
That’s what Shelter did.
Porter Robinson and Madeon are not names I normally associate with anime. Raves, sure — but not a music video/short film that I immediately blast out to all of my friends with too-enthusiastic recommendations accompanying it.
“What will become of me from now on?”
That question sets the tone for the entire film, along with an image of a seventeen-year-old girl waking up and checking her tablet, only to be met with the ominous words: “No messages in 2539 days.” Almost immediately you ask: who is this girl? Why is she so isolated?
The environment begins to dissolve into pixels around her, and it quickly becomes clear that the girl (Rin) can control the world with her tablet. Anything she doodles becomes reality. Entire landscapes spring into existence. Mountains rise from the ground and a waterfall suddenly pours over the side, all while Rin happily draws whatever her mind can imagine.
Despite this, the loneliness sneaks through in small ways: a scene where Rin stares out the window at the northern lights, her eyes filled with longing. Another scene where she runs solo through a wide-open field. It gives the impression that Rin is alone in her world; for all the control she has over it, she has no one to share that world with.
Then things begin to change. She spots a tree with a swing in the distance and glances at her tablet, realizing she didn’t draw it. The moment she touches it, images flash through her brain: a young girl laughing in the swing; an older man smiling down at her; the pair laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
The scene then shifts to Rin in her bed, arm thrown across her face, clearly shaken from the experience. The worlds she creates become starker. Sharp crystal protrusions, an inverted castle made of ice, a wasteland of burned trees: all beautiful, but all deadly. These worlds seem to portray a sense of contented loneliness.
Another scene briefly shows Rin walking down a tree-lined path in the dead of winter toward what looks like a city, before it flashes to another shot of her tablet: “No messages in 2578 days.” An image then begins to appear on the blank screen of her tablet before Rin is flung through a vortex of images.
The young girl and the older man are back, but in much sharper clarity than before. They are clearly father and daughter; we see images of them playing in a sandbox, at a park, and visiting a temple. Then there is a flash of a news segment detailing the current conditions in Tokyo; the world seems on the verge of collapse. The next scene shows the man tucking in the young girl before returning to a series of schematics detailing some kind of life support craft. Without his knowledge, the young girl watches from the doorway — and behind her, Rin watches with growing realization on her face.
The little girl in the images is Rin; the older man, her father. These aren’t random images, but suppressed memories. More scenes follow where Rin’s father fights to spend all the time he can with her. A satellite image shows a moon-like object days away from impacting the earth. Finally, we see the young girl strapped into a space craft, tubes running in and out of her body, tears streaming down her face as her father says goodbye.
One more scene where the father watches the craft disappear into the sky, a smile of contentment on his face. At this point, the meaning is clear: he has done all he can to save his daughter from the horror that’s about to befall the rest of the human race.
After this, Rin is thrown back through a vortex to her virtual world, where she collapses to the ground and sobs. But then her tablet beeps and flashes an icon.
She has a message.
I couldn’t read the message, so I don’t know what it said, but what happens next tells the story well enough: she sat in a world of darkness before she received the message. As she reads it, light explodes outwards from her. Blue sky. Grass. Water. She has hope again. Rin’s voice sounds out over the images, “Even if those memories make me sad, I’ve got to go forward, believing in the future. Even when I realize my loneliness, and am about to lose all hope, those memories make me stronger. I’m not alone because of you.”
The scene shifts to a craft floating in the vastness of space and an unconscious Rin side of it, hooked up to countless life support systems. Though she is unconscious in the real world, a small smile rests on her face — and tears brim in her eyes — as she says one last thing: “Thank you.”
Making Sense of it All
Shelter is a film about a father’s love for his daughter and determination for her to survive against all odds.
One of the descriptions of the videos talks about her being in a reality simulator. I didn’t see that description before I watched it. I went into the film with no expectations whatsoever, and I wholeheartedly believe that improved my experience.
When I first saw Rin watching her memories through the lens of an outsider, my jaw dropped. I realized immediately what was happening, even though I at first thought she had been somehow digitalized in order to survive the end of the world. When Shelter ended, I could only stare at the credits and let it sink in.
And then I watched it again. I’ve seen it probably six or seven times in the course of writing this article, and I’ve found the ending to contain a note of optimism. Perhaps there is still life on Earth. The message she received came from somewhere, after all. Maybe it was a message to come home, reminiscent of the hazy ending of Voices of a Distant Star.
One way or the other, I hope that Porter Robinson produces a follow-up. I want more of this story.
What was your interpretation of Shelter? Let us know in the comments below.
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