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Sep 04

Fantastic Planet: The Visionary Body and Gnostic Evolution

planète-sauvage-600x356Fantastic Planet is a stunning work of visionary filmmaking, directed in 1973 by Rene Laloux and animated by Roland Topor. It is based on a novel, Oms en série (“Oms Linked Together”), by Stefan Wul. It tells the story of a strange world named “Ygam”, ruled by a race of giant, psychically evolved blue humanoids called the Draag. Humans exist on this world, but they’re known as “Oms” (after the French word “homme” meaning “man”) and are so diminutive compared to the Draags in their size and stature that they are kept as pets. Wild, “un-domesticated” Oms live in tribal societies on the outskirts of Draag settlements and in abandoned places. Draag time passes much more slowly, with one day being the equivalent of 45 Earth days. The trope in this film, used in other popular science fiction at the time like Planet of the Apes (1968), is role reversal: what would happen if we were the vermin on a planet of super evolved sentient life forms?

While the imagery is utterly striking—bizarre creatures dredged up from the depths of the psyche, both beautiful and horrifying, whipping plants and crystalline morning dew—the plot is, by contrast, fairly straight forward. It tells the story of a human boy named Terr (short for “Terror”, but also a play on the word Terra, or Earth) as he is raised as a pet by a Draag family after his mother is cruelly killed by Draag children. Terr is the plaything of Tiwa, the daughter of an important Draag leader Master Sinh.

In a situation like The Matrix, Draags learn by wearing a telepathic device on their heads that imprints the all of knowledge of Draag civilization directly into their memory. Terr accompanies Tiwa during her learning sessions and, somehow, manages to “download” that knowledge, too. When Tiwa becomes bored of her pet, Terr manages to escape to an abandoned park where the wild Oms live, bringing the knowledge of Draag civilization with him. He learns to use this knowledge to their advantage and, without spoiling too much (yet), liberate the Om from their subservient place on Ygam.

VISIONARY BODIES

500full-fantastic-planet-screenshot.jpgBefore Terr leaves his Draag family, we learn some interesting things about the Draag. They spend most of their time in a state of disembodied meditation. Tiwa’s mother is seen sitting before what looks like an altar. Her signature red eyes fade away as a sphere materializes above the altar and floats up into the sky. Inside the sphere is a mirror-image of her seated in meditation. She joins other Draag as they float like celestial entities across the Ygam sky. While most of plot in Fantastic Planet is the kind of narrative you find in many a classic science fiction story, its the surrealistic imagery of each scene that hypnotizes you. These animations are what modern viewers now have a word for: visionary art. This shouldn’t come as any surprise as the animator, Roland Topor, was a friend of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Jodoworsky enlisted Topor in the 1960s to start a new, psychedelic surrealist movement. If you’ve ever seen Jodo’s films, like El Topo (1970) or Holy Mountain (1973), you know they are visual psychedelics, burned through our retinas in 8mm alchemical fire.

During a disoriented moment as a child, Terr happens upon four seated Draags meditating. Their bodies appear to shapeshift through varied, multicolored forms as their outer skin vanishes, leaving only the nervous system visible in what reminds one of a modern day Alex Grey painting. This is the visionary body of the Draag. They appear to have evolved themselves into a higher-dimensional reality where their physical body is more reminiscent of the astral body in esoteric traditions (such as Anthroposophy and Theosophy). They are more like the denizens of a world described by the religious scholar Henry Corbin: the Mundus Imaginalis, or imaginal world. The entities encountered in these realms of existence are the kind encountered through visionary and psychedelic states.

When the Draag meditate, they project their consciousness—in what might borrow from the Egyptian concept of the “Ba”, or individual soul—into a yet more ethereal body. They float like clouds over the planet, occupied by some form of celestial communion. It is interesting that Topor chose to depict them as spheres, since Plato in the Timaeus postulated that the shape of the soul was a perfect sphere. Carl Jung also linked the image of the soul with the mandala and the archetype of wholeness.

We later learn that this extension of the visionary body is necessary in order for the Draags to procreate. They travel in their disembodied form to their planet’s satellite, called the Fantastic Planet, and participate in a form of imaginal erotic copulation with the consciousness of other alien life forms. Somehow, this helps the Draag mix vital, noetic (meaning ‘of the mind’) traits back to their species and ensure their survival. In short, for the Draag, the only kind of sex is visionary, celestial sex with other beings from the whole universe. Pretty neat stuff.

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