"A Single Life" Short Film Review
We are always yearning to look around the corner of the present and see what lies in store, but storytellers are quick to warn about wishing your time away. One such story is “A Single Life” by Job, Joris & Marieke. This animated short, nominated for an Oscar in 2015, follows Pia, a young woman living alone in an apartment as she careens through her long life in the span of three minutes.
Vibrant, happy hues color the screen as we meet the main character. The bright colors and disheveled-but-adorable background of the room exude excitement for this young woman, who is preparing to eat a pizza dinner. She is happy to spend an evening this way, but it is interrupted by a knock at the door and finds only a small package waiting for her.
Wrapped inside is a record labeled “A Single Life,” which she puts on her record player. She is about to take her first bite when the song (by Happy Camper feat. Pien Feith) skips. Her slice of pizza has suddenly been mostly eaten, but no one was in the room to scarf it down. She rewinds the record and the slice returns to its original state. As she fiddles with the record, one thing becomes clear: skipping or speeding through the song will do the same to time.
The curiosity is irresistible. Pia’s first time jump brings her into the future—a wedding portrait hangs on the wall behind her. The rest of the room has changed entirely as well. The scruffy, almost dorm-room aesthetic has been replaced with neat elegance. After taking in the room, she looks down at herself to see a pregnant stomach. Manipulating the record, she watches her stomach shrink and grow as she speeds back and forth through the nine months until she is holding a baby in her arms.
Young Pia, however, is not ready to take care of a crying infant and speeds backward in search for some peace. Perhaps she misjudged the distance because instead of returning to the young woman’s apartment, she is dropped into her childhood, pigtails and all. Pia is unamused and struggles to reach the tonearm. Not only is she quite a bit smaller in this scene, but most children are not occupied with thoughts of their mortality.
She knocks the tonearm far forward into the future. Pia is gray-haired, but still healthy -- it appears that she has just returned from a hiking trip due to an injured leg. She struggles with the wheelchair, but as she approaches the record player the song skips and sends her back to the other side of the room. As she grapples with her handicap, the moment in time stretches and stretches for her. The song repeats, “Time and again you’re trying,” over this short scuffle until she tips backwards and the record skips forward yet again.
Pia is suddenly on a carpeted floor, accompanied not by a wheelchair but by a far more permanent walker. She looks around as she stands, and smiles at the homey future ahead of her. Her calm observations are suddenly interrupted when the song ends. She rushes to change her place, but it is too late; the record has reached its end. And so has Pia.
The lively main character is gone. In her place, a small urn. The room behind her is still new: it is her final resting place. The static ends as the tonearm returns to its place. Silence is all that is heard over the ending card. As bright as her life was, and how exciting her future was, Pia’s existence was temporary.
This short film is a biting reminder of our mortality, but the brilliant palette and upbeat music keeps the dark comedy from becoming grim. Instead of ominously warning the audience that they are not long for this world, “A Single Life” highlights the joys of all stages of life, even if accompanied by difficulties. The short film leaves the audience reeling with the reminder of death, but watching it will instill an unexpected peace. Do not take the fact that life is short as a reason to push yourself and use every hour of every day; take the fact that life is short as a reminder to slow down and enjoy the good things the world has to offer every day that you are on it.