"Where would we be without books?" That question, sung over and over again by Sparks in the theme song of the long-running public-radio show Bookworm, gets a troubling answer in The Inksect, the animated film above by Mexican Filmmaker Pablo Calvillo. In the bookless dystopia it envisions, fossil fuels have run out — one premise it shares with many modern works of its subgenre — but the powers that be found a way to delay the inevitable by burning all of humanity's printed matter for energy instead. "Soon after," announce the opening titles, "we, the human race, devolved into illiterate cockroaches."
But among those cockroaches, a few still remembered books, and not only did they remember them, they "knew that their powers could liberate our minds and help us evolve into human beings once again."
Taking place in a grim, gray, technologically malevolent, and elaborately rendered New York City, the story follows the journey of one such relatively enlightened man-bug's quest for not just a return to his prior form but to the richer, brighter world contained in and made possible by books. He catches a glimpse of Edgar Allan Poe with the raven of his most famous poem perched atop his head, a sight that might look absurd to us but inspires the protagonist to put pen to paper and write a single word: liberty.
The Inksect's literary references don't end with The Raven. Nor do they begin with it: you'll no doubt have already made the connections between the film's notions of a book-burning dystopia or men turning into cockroaches and their probable inspirations. Even apart from the many visually striking qualities on its surface, Calvillo's film illustrates just how deeply works of literature, from Ray Bradbury and Franz Kafka and many other minds besides, lie buried in the foundation of our collective culture. Even a film so expressive of 21st-century anxieties has to understand and incorporate the concerns that humanity has always dealt with — and so often dealt with, in many different areas and many different ways, through books.
The Inksect, named the best experimental film at the Cannes Short Film Festival in 2016, will be added to our list of Animations, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.