Lo Mein Refrain is a 5 minute animated short in which a man attempts to apologize to his former friend over an awkward dinner. This project did not develop from an initial solid idea, but as a stream of consciousness inspired by drawn out, other-worldly monologues from shows such as Mr. Robot and Bojack Horseman . Before a look and feel had even been established, the script began heading in a decidedly guilt stricken and angry direction, and I followed it through.
Dissociative, mentally ill protagonists have always appealed to me and exerted a massive influence on my work. An unreliable narrator has the power to bend reality to justify his actions no matter how objectively wrong, and the more egregious the behavior, the more obvious the disconnect as the threads of the story start to come apart. I am very interested in exploring the thought process behind a character who intentionally hurts his friend, and even through his apology, demonstrates a total lack of remorse. Moreover, I was especially interested in a collapsing room as an analogy for the long term effects of unresolved guilt and self hatred.
In this short, the protagonist finds himself in a room with a former friend who he has harmed in some way. He attempts to make conversation, and when that fails, he finds himself returning to The Incident and his role in it. However, his apology is insincere, and the more he fumbles to say anything truly incriminating, the more the room fills with water. The constant sound of drips, the ethereal presence of the friend, the inedible food spread out on the table, and the inexplicable ringing of the phone veer the one sided conversation off its tracks. The harder the protagonist pushes, the more irritated and hateful he becomes. At whom the hate is directed is unclear.
This short doesn’t seek to break new ground philosophically. I am primarily interested in the protagonist and his ability to admit to doing something terrible without truly caring, because I can recognize this ability in myself. Self-serving, anti-hero types have become a new staple of character driven dramas, and I suspect this is due to a rising cultural recognition that one dimensional do-gooders are difficult to relate to. We all act seeking to effect some external good, regardless of what our personal definition of “good” might be. But is there any good in hurting someone to, as the narrator admits, “see what would happen”? When no one is watching and there are no consequences other than internal, emotional ones, is it necessary to act “good”?
What do we make of a character who can superficially understand what he did is wrong, yet can’t genuinely care? How do we conclude that in spite of his actions and his self-admission of doing something wrong, that he is still our protagonist? Ultimately, I hope to create a monologue that lets the audience understand what the protagonist doesn’t; that he acted without reason, and that no apology is capable of making him truly care. I hope to use animation and sound design to create the physical and emotional dissonance that puts us in the protagonist’s head.
Video link: https://vimeo.com/415314545
1. Frances Shnaidman, LO MEIN REFRAIN , 2020, (Video still)
2. Frances Shnaidman, LO MEIN REFRAIN , 2020, (Video still)
3. Frances Shnaidman, LO MEIN REFRAIN , 2020, (Video still)
4. Frances Shnaidman, LO MEIN REFRAIN , 2020, (Video still)
5. Frances Shnaidman, LO MEIN REFRAIN , 2020, (Video still)