Spawning from a short, whimsical poem director Jonah Ansell wrote for his younger sister when she cut open her first dead body as a medical student, Cadaver has since grown its legs and become a seven-minute 2D exploration of the tenderness of love. Ansell described Cadaver to Portable as ”a story of romantic versus cynic. Of how love inspires versus how love exploits. Cadaver is the net sum of my thirty battered years of falling into and out of love. Of having my heart crushed. Or discovering I was crushing someone else’s.”
Ansell, a writer and director of both live-action and animated films whose “muse is [his] understanding of the human condition and [his] desire to improve it,” explained to Portable why animation was such an important medium for the film:
I love animation because anything is possible. Literally, there are no boundaries. You can craft and sculpt each shot with an exact perspective and acute level of detail you simply cannot in a world where gravity exists. But in that context, it makes every decision even more difficult, because without parameters you must define and work within parameters of your own creation…We first explored puppetry and mixed-media possibilities—but quickly fell in love with 2D, hand-drawn faces by a Seattle-based artist named Carina Simmons. Her gritty, permanent-marker drawings captured the vulnerability and fragility with which we sought to tell our story.
The beloved Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future) offers his voice to the elderly cadaver who wakes up to say his last goodbye to his wife, played by award-winner Kathy Bates, only to discover a truth in death he didn’t know in life. Cult blogger, Rookie editor, Portable contributor and all-round teen dream Tavi Gevinson is another addition to the all-star cast as the med student whose whose scalpel sparks the cadaver back to life. Tavi also sings Neil Young’s only number one hit, Heart of Gold, in the film. Gevinson, who was flattered to be allowed to sing the Neil Young classic told Portable she had “some nostalgic attachment to the song and some of Neil Young’s other music and knowing that he heard it and approved was really nice.”
As for Gevinson’s involvement with family friend Ansell’s project (she was also the star of his first film, First Bass):
“The short resonated with me because it’s so seemingly bizarre but really quite sweet and somehow un-cheesy. It’s the most earnest kind of poignancy.”
Cadaver premiered at New York’s The Standard East Village on Sunday night at a party during which Tavi performed Heart of Goldlive. Watch a video of her performance here.