The Inadequacy of Language in ‘In Other Words’

In Other Words features unusual and striking animation to characterize a strained relationship between a daughter and her father.

The film begins on black with the sound of a sweeping broom, transitioning to a sandy landscape overlaid with black animated lines. The broom appears, seeming to work on its own at first before the man wielding it is revealed—another man in the background stands with a suitcase, looking off into space. A female voice is overlaid, later revealed to be his daughter, Abigail, who says, “So you’re flying back already tonight? What for?” The statement echoes and reverberates several times before cutting to a shot of the man and his daughter sitting at a café as she asks the question—a flashback. The father is shown off screen making excuses for his hasty departure over a shot of the daughter wringing her hands. He tries to change the subject, asking her what she has been up to lately; she just responds with the question, “What for?” From there, father and daughter attempt to hash out the complexities in their relationship.

The animation in the film is unique, incorporating real images with drawings over them, creating a complex layered effect. Notably, there is a difference in how the father and daughter are depicted. The daughter is largely drawn in sketchy lines—only her hands and eyes are from real images. The father’s entire body and most of his face are in a realistic mode—only one of his eyes and the top of his head are drawn in. However towards the end of the film when the father confronts his own guilt, the animation changes. The father too, is presented as a line drawing, perhaps signaling his interiority freed from societal strictures.

The relationship between Abigail and her father is estranged, signaled first by the shot selection. They are on opposite sides of a table—rather than sharing the same space immediately, the director chooses to show just the daughter in frame before cutting out to reveal her father there with her. Abigail articulates her frustrations with her father in the statement, “It is impossible to fit a lifetime in the five minutes you have for me.” The statement encapsulates the inconsistencies of her father’s words with his actions. As Abigail notes, “those are just words, Dad. It doesn’t change anything.” Though her father may attempt to go through the motions of being an engaged parent, his actions ultimately do not reflect this. Underlying the tension in their relationship is a frustration with language—how it often fails to communicate how we truly feel. There is conflict within Abigail’s father in that he clearly loves her but cannot seem to find a way to convey that to her. This is best shown when her father repeats, “I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I couldn’t. I could. I could. I can. I can. I can.” The repetition of the sounds seems to render them almost devoid of semantic meaning. The film ends on an image of Abigail’s father asking a younger version of his daughter, “what are you looking at?” She only responds with a smile, because there are no words.

In Other Words beautifully tackles the unspoken complexities of parent-child relationships, lending striking images to places words cannot reach.

Samantha Bloom

Samantha is a graduate from Stanford University with a B.A. in English with an emphasis in creative writing. Her previous writing projects have included a satirical Silicon Valley musical, a short film that moves the story of Jekyll and Hyde onto social media, a short film about female embodiment in the modern age, and short stories galore. She’s an obsessive fan girl with an affinity for 80s pop, science fiction, and quirky historical facts. She hopes to be a writer for TV and/or film one day.

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