There aren’t many LGBT-themed animated movies, and most of the ones that exist are short films. Torrey Pines is a bit of an exception then – a 60-minute stop-motion film, that takes on issues such as a youth experiencing gender dysphoria and mental health problem.
It’s based on director/animator Clyde Petersen’s own childhood, following him when he was a young child called Whitney, a girl on the edge of puberty, experiencing the sense that she does not want breast and to get periods, but still at a time when she is more child than adult.
He mother takes her off on a trip across the US, which seems like a massive adventure – visiting everywhere from the Grand Canyon to the White House. However, Whitney’s mother also believes there are aliens and reptile people. Although their trip may look like a vacation, it could be something far different.
Torrey Pines tells its tale with no dialogue – the film makes everyone sound like the adults in Charlie Brown, so you don’t know what they’re actually saying – instead using the visuals and narrative style to tell the story. It’s a method that means the film sometimes relies on the audience to fill in the gaps, or which leaves space where you’re not 100% sure what is happening. However, that works extremely well for the movie, particularly with its themes of two people who are both experiencing the fact that the external world doesn’t match what they believe in their minds, but for whom the truth of that is very different. One is dealing with the fact their gender isn’t what’s on the birth certificate, while the other may be having a complete schizophrenic break.
The film doesn’t belabour these points, instead embedding them into the fabric of the story. It’s not therefore an angsty tale of gender dysphoria, it’s just part of Whitney’s growing realisation of her world – something she’s particularly aware of when she sees things such as her mother with no clothes on. Likewise, with the mother’s mental health issues, Torrey Pines successfully shows this through the eyes of a child who doesn’t fully comprehend what’s going on.
All that it shot through with some great music, much of it written by Clyde and his band, Your Heart Breaks. However, what captivates the viewer most is the visual style. The stop-motion initially looks rather child-like, like a kid’s pictures cut out and animated in a very simple style. However, it’s actually far more complex than that, with a multi-plane camera used so that it’s done in a way designed to look as flat as a child’s painting, it manages to be sculptural and three-dimensional at the same time.
It’s at once beautiful and ugly, simple and complex, and constantly draws the audience in with both humour and the way it expresses its ideas. That said, it won’t be a movie for everyone, but for those willing to be pulled into this child’s eye world, it’s worth the trip.