Annette's Puppet Baby Explained - VRGyani News and Media

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Friday, August 20, 2021

Annette's Puppet Baby Explained

If you look at the poster for Annette, you may think you know who you’ll see in this movie. Big names like Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg populate the cast while the creative spirits of writer/director Leos Carax and screenwriters Ron and Russell Mael also loom large over the proceedings. But playing just as big a role as anyone in this project is someone that’s been hidden from the marketing: the film’s titular lead character. Roughly a half-hour into Annette, Annette emerges as the newborn child of Driver and Cottillard’s protagonists.

Except, Annette isn’t depicted as a human newborn. She’s a puppet baby who looks like Chucky crossed with a Gelfling as realized by Rankin-Bass. No wonder Annette’s been hidden from the TV spots and posters for this Leos Carax directorial effort. The unnerving gaze of this intentionally artificial-looking adolescent would cause people to gasp if they saw it randomly in the wild. Even in the confines of a darkened movie theater, the continued lingering on this child’s cold face and her piercing yet empty eyes led audiences at my screening to vacate the premises.

But there’s a point to this puppet baby beyond immediately providing nightmare fuel for the general public. Rendering Annette as a puppet proves pivotal to the movie named after her in several ways.

For one thing, capturing Annette in this manner continues a fascination with puppetry that’s proved recurring in the works from Ron and Russell Mael’s band Sparks. One of the most famous music videos from the duo was for the song “When I’m With You”, which depicts Ron as a puppeteer operating Russell. Decades later, the 2017 music video for their tune “Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)” is told entirely through stop motion puppetry directed by Joseph Wallace. For the Edgar Wright documentary The Sparks Brothers, Wallace was called upon once again to realize the duo behind Sparks in the form of stop motion puppets.

The inherently abject nature of puppetry just fits perfectly into the similarly unorthodox nature of Sparks as a band. Thus, for Annette, which served as the first time Ron and Russell Mael would be writing the screenplay for a feature film, it was only natural that puppets would end up factoring into the proceedings. This duo has clung to puppets for decades now, why stop even once they were penning a movie to be headlined by Adam Driver?

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Beyond the connection between puppets and Sparks, though, rendering Annette as a puppet also ties into other aspects of the production, including how it reinforces the overall aesthetic of Annette as a film. A wall-to-wall musical, Annette operates largely as an opera, a medium of storytelling all about big bold swings that couldn’t be accomplished in everyday life. Carax conveys this attitude through numerous means, including heightened backdrops (like a stormy night at sea), moments where characters, such as conductor The Accompanist (Simon Helberg), are talking to nobody but the viewer, or even otherworldly touches, like one character returning as a ghost.

Annette touches on emotions that are very much rooted in the real world but the way it explores those feelings are certainly not operating within the confines of reality. Annette being a puppet is an immediate visual signifier of this trait. Though the relationship between Annette and her father, Driver’s Henry McHenry, evokes real-world troubled father/daughter relationships, the physical appearance of the former character ties into the heightened visual aesthetic of the movie. One look at this adolescent and you know that Annette is a film that’s intentionally distancing itself from the shackles of reality.

Most importantly, though, rendering Annette as a puppet is critical to exploring how McHenry’s sees this character. Initially, depicting Annette in this manner reflects how distant McHenry is as a father. Later on, though, the use of a puppet becomes a representation of how McHenry sees the people around him as just objects to be moved around for his own pleasure. This is initially depicted in how he treats his wife before the story shifts focus to how McHenry sees Annette. Once he discovers that his daughter, when exposed to soft light, can sing beautifully, he sees her not as a person but as a meal ticket.

Despite The Accompanist telling him “this is exploitation”, McHenry plows onward, treating his daughter like an inanimate object, a puppet if you will. We don’t get to see Annette as a human being because McHenry doesn’t see her as one. Capturing her as a puppet is a visually creative way of exposing the rotten worldview of this stand-up comic and especially the toxic way he approaches his child.

It’s even an effective way to point the finger back at the audience, as people around the world in Annette fall in love with this singing child. Like McHenry, they too eschew the well-being of a baby for their entertainment, seeing her as just a lifeless creation for their means. Through a whirlwind montage of Annette traveling around the glove to adoring masses, all while her well-being is ignored, Annette is using the very presence of a puppet child to suggest that McHenry’s damaging view of his offspring is not exclusive to just him. We’re all complicit in treating children like objects, seeing them as just puppets to dance around for our amusement.

The underlying thematic intent of this puppet baby gets made apparent in the closing scene of Annette when Annette goes to visit her father in prison. Once the child sits down, something unexpected happens. The puppet used to represent Annette is put away and tossed on the floor. Now, sitting across from her father is a human child. Now that the attempts to exploit her for money have been forced out of McHenry’s hands, he and the audience can finally see Annette as a flesh-and-blood person.

This final father/daughter conversation does not go well, with the inhumanity with which McHenry has treated Annette being so harmful that there isn’t even an attempt to offer him redemption. Once this talk ends, it’s clear McHenry may never get to speak to Annette again. Once he’s alone again, the gravity of his actions seems to finally hit him as he stands in a corner, the puppet version of Annette lying on the floor nearby as a reminder of all the suffering he's caused.

This conclusion thoughtfully crystallizes why a puppet baby makes such perfect sense for the story of Annette. The affinity for puppetry by Sparks and the aesthetic of the entire movie only further make this the perfect home for this unorthodox visual…even if that puppet baby’s dead eyes will haunt my nightmares for weeks to come.

KEEP READING: ‘Annette’ Review: Leos Carax Further Explores the Art of Performance in His Bizarre and Enchanting Musical



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