Everything that we are, how we define ourselves, and how well we understand ourselves, are determined by what we remember. Our memories constitute the role we assign to ourselves and to the people around us. For example: I am your friend, and you are mine. I know this for a fact because I have met you once before, and several times after that. I remember we bonded on a shared cab ride home one afternoon, and I remember trusting you enough for me to tell my deepest secrets to you, knowing you wouldn’t tell another soul. Regardless of its significance, our memories are not eternal. Time will play its part and slowly take away pieces of us, little by little. This theme is visualized in the animated short film, Late Afternoon, which is nominated for an Academy Award this year.
The short film, written and directed by Louise Bagnall, presents a depiction of an eventual version of all of us, in the form of an elderly woman named Emily. In the present, Emily is sitting comfortably in a chair, having tea, and sorting out her belongings with the aid of her caretaker. Throughout the film, we follow her escape reality as she reminisces on the long life she has lived far before that afternoon tea. Bits of events unfold through her temporary episodes of remembrance.
Emily’s first episode began with her dipping biscuit in her tea; it broke immediately— indicating the drink was boiling hot — and while she silently watches it sink to the bottom of the cup, she was diverted away from her chair. We now see a young girl “swimming” through an empty space and eventually enter a white sandy beach on a windy day. It’s Emily, in a much younger exterior. She runs around the beach for a while. She writes her name in the sand, plays cat-and-mouse with the waves, spots for boats, and fishes for gold by the shore. At the same moment when she was extracting a gold coin out of the water, she returns to her chair, having pulled out the chunk of biscuit in the tea. Then, her caretaker checks on her and finds the tea has gone cold. The thing about nostalgia is that it has the ability to blur someone’s awareness of time and space, therefore losing their sense of reality.
Late Afternoon captures a wonderful way of conceptualizing someone’s experience of escaping consciousness, by imagining them flowing through a realm similar to a space between dimensions. The style of animation is presented in a manner of continuous flow, almost as if symbolizing how time keeps on moving, and does not wait for anyone. Emily is almost never shown to escape her nostalgic episodes voluntarily, instead she is always being pulled away from the memories and forced back into reality. She is constantly thrown into moments in time, but restricted of the possibilities of slowing down, speeding up, or pausing.
If we look at how Emily remembers her life, it says a lot about how the memories that stay with us the most are not always the big events; instead the small, day-to-day moments can remain as well. It is profound how in a limited amount of time, this film is able to explore vivid themes of love and loss. Emily’s memories that are shown to us are related to either one of those two, or sometimes both. We know that — in a way — love and loss contradict each other, but at the same time they can be complementary and seen in a cyclical nature: after love comes loss, but after loss also comes love.
Late Afternoon shows that when time and our bodies are not reliable to turn to, or return to, we can count on the things around us — just like Emily’s belongings — to serve as a reminder of who we are.