‘I Lost My Body’: A Tender Story of Gradual Self-Discovery

To say I Lost My Body is a strange mix of a teenage love story and a horror movie would be a gross understatement, because it is so much more.

The French animation movie directed by Jérémy Clapin is an adaptation of the book Happy Hand by Guillaume Laurant, who is famous for his work as a scriptwriter for the movie Amelie. The movie has also garnered international attention by becoming the first-ever animation movie to bag the prestigious Nespresso Grand Prize at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival (which, I am sure, would only be one of the many accolades to follow).

The movie consists of two related, yet completely contrasting, narratives that blend in a continuous fabric weaved by intermittent flashbacks. While one part of the movie starts with a severed hand waking up inside a medical laboratory refrigerator in Paris, the other shows a young man named Naoufel (Hakim Faris), who is struggling in his life, working as a pizza delivery guy.

The hand, separated from its owner due to an accident, embarks on a bumpy and turbulent journey to find its body. The protagonist, reminiscent of Thing T. Thing from the Addams Family, quickly adapts to the circumstances it is put in. It quickly learns how to run on its fingers after crawling and walking for a short distance and plunges itself into a new and terrifying world. During its journey, it is faced with many hazards and near-death situations in garbage dumps, subway lines, streets, rooftops, and suburban traffic.

While many might expect the usual humour associated with stories of lone appendages, it’s impossible to foresee what this movie has in store. The hand also has flashbacks that take us back to the childhood of its owner – an only child in Morocco who lives with his parents. During these sequences, an enhanced emphasis is placed on his hand – on the handlebar of a cycle, out of a car window, and playing with sand on the beach. The boy is shown to be very interested in recording every sound around him, who then stores these recordings in cassettes (these would later serve as the only remnants of a childhood lost to tragedy).

The once cheerful and energetic Naoufel, who is taken in by his uncle afterward, grows up to be a gloomy young man in the detached household. One day, he finds himself charmed by Gabrielle (played by Victoire du Bois) after another late pizza delivery leads to a deep, prolonged conversation between them through an intercom. What follows is a tender story of gradual self-discovery filled with a long-lost desire to find something meaningful.

Personally, there is one scene that sets the movie apart from any other I have experienced in the genre. Alone in a room with a baby who drops his pacifier, the hand picks it up and puts it back in the baby’s mouth. Immediately afterward, the baby takes hold of one of the hand’s fingers and falls asleep. How the hand reacts to the baby’s actions are shown most profoundly and speaks volumes about how the hand’s loneliness makes it crave for affection.

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There exists no clear-cut separation between what’s real and what’s not in the scenes except for the change in colour scheme that comes in without warning. This is only accentuated by the absence of a lot of dialogues; purely because the visuals alone have the life-force to sustain and project themselves into the minds of the audience. The novelty reflected in the way the hand’s experiences are portrayed in the movie makes us forget that these are incidents one doesn’t expect to witness in real life.

Consequently, the hand emerges not just as a part devoid of any importance owing to its dissociation from the main body. It assumes a fully developed persona with feelings like love and empathy, and enough senses to comprehend what is happening around it. The utmost focus with which the hand is presented in the film does complete justice to the theme of the story.

The recurring sequences from Naoufel’s childhood serves as a prelude to the sadness lingering with him everywhere. Here, it is worth mentioning that Hakim Faris, who lent his voice to the grown-up Naoufel, does a truly wonderful job in keeping the melancholy intact in the dialogues – so much so that we end up feeling so much for what Naoufel has been through. The scenes from the past also reminds us that no one truly leaves their childhood behind – how we want some things to stick with us, and how certain things just decide to never leave. The dismembered hand is also a symbol for separation across so many dimensions – be it physical, social, mental or temporal.

Dan Levy has composed the score, and it perfectly amplifies all the emotions that the movie tries to communicate. It manages to stay consistent throughout, while effortlessly segueing from one scene to another. The tones go hand in hand (pun intended) with the scenes and play an important part in transforming the movie into a gripping account of loss, longing, and hope.

The overall tone of the movie screams of horror, but it is incredible how the creators have managed to bring about numerous antithetical elements and spin a beautiful tale from them. The masterpiece, which is light-hearted, poignant, romantic, repulsive, eerie and thrilling at the same time, evokes wonder, dread, grief and relief in the audience with equal magnitude.

In the end, the whole story comes down to how the protagonist is in search of a path to find all their missing parts, both literally and figuratively. The creativity and artistic sentiment the creators have attached to the project guarantee that the viewers will feel a heavy lump inside their hearts, or probably enjoy a sweet release of emotion after the climax. In my opinion, it is the best animated movie of the year, if not the best in the past few years.

After all, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.

Gokul KP is a B.Tech graduate hailing from Kerala and is currently working in Bangalore. He is an aspiring journalist and constantly tries to spread awareness about LGBTQIA+ rights, feminism, and climate change. He also often writes about politics, mental health and mainstream media. As someone who identifies as queer, he is constantly working towards gender inclusivity in all communities, one step at a time.