Outside the box office: ‘I Lost My Body’ teaches you to take life into your own hands

A wave of pink and blue hands reach out against a map of Paris background.
(Yasmin Elqutami• The Student Life)

This article contains spoilers.

When director Jérémy Clapin was in the early stages of funding requests for his independent animated film “I Lost My Body,” he knew the process would be difficult from the start.

“It was really hard to see the poetry behind this [film] about a severed hand,” Clapin said in an interview with IndieWire. “It’s about … what is it to be human, it’s an existential quest about love and loss. How do you say that in a pitch? … You have to be moved to travel in some area you weren’t expecting to go.”

Indeed, this film — which is available on Netflix — takes viewers to the unexpected, while deftly encapsulating what it means to be alive. “I Lost My Body” embraces uncertainty through images that appear to be realistic on the surface, but quickly warp to embrace the surreal. 

Based on “Happy Hand,” a book by Guillaume Laurant, “I Lost My Body” is made up of two parallel narratives. The first and more traditional narrative is one of protagonist Naoufel, made up of a series of flashbacks to his parents’ deaths. The second is a modern timeline in which Naoufel struggles to keep a job and is pining after Gabrielle, a woman he meets at work and ends up working for. At this point in his life, Naoufel lacks direction and is weighed down by the misery of both his past and current life.

In the beginning of the film, the flashbacks convey that Naoufel used to have grand dreams of being an astronaut and a pianist. The secure and driven passion that Naoufel has as a child contrasts with Naoufel as a young adult, who is a severely insecure and aimless individual — he has lost hope and is constantly grappling with his own directionlessness. The creation of a narrative so driven by Naoufel’s uncertainty and seemingly random misfortune establishes the unknown as a central theme.

The film also follows the journey of Naoufel’s severed hand, a rather confusing storyline, seeing as Naoufel has both his hands in the aforementioned plotline. But this narrative forges onward without affording explanations. In wordless, fast-paced shots, the severed hand endures a quest, a hero’s journey of sorts, as it traversed the unkind and dangerous Parisian streets. 

The hand, when examined as a character, is very similar to a younger Naoufel. It is very driven and has one goal in mind to be reunited with Naoufel. The hand possesses a strong sense of purpose that serves as its driving force, a clear foil to the purposeless, chance-driven character of Naoufel.

In the end, however, both Naoufel and his severed hand experience a direct confrontation with uncertainty, learning how resilience can be present in moments where uncertainty is embraced. 

Naoufel, now fully downtrodden after romantic rejection and having lost his hand in a saw accident at work, is met with his hand, who approaches him in his sleep. The hand decides, however, that a reunion will not be made.

Instead of attaching itself back to Naoufel’s arm, the hand retreats from its body, adventuring out into the snow and embracing chance and an uncertain future. Similarly, after facing such grand misfortune (rejection and the loss of his hand), Naoufel takes a literal and metaphorical leap into the unknown by jumping from the roof of a building onto an impossibly far platform.

This act establishes itself as the crux of the film, where the complete embrace of chance liberates the film’s miserable protagonist. In jumping, Naoufel finally makes a purposeful decision and thus opens himself up to the realm of his own choices. He’s no longer pulled along by unfortunate happenstances, but can now take his life into his own hands — or hand. 

“I Lost My Body” is a film about what to do when you don’t know what to do. It teaches us that we’re not beholden to the world. When it seems the whole world is falling apart around us, we can still do something about it. 

I would recommend “I Lost My Body” to anyone who feels like they are alone in feeling overwhelmed with the uncertainty of the future.

Hannah Avalos PO ’21 is one of TSL’s film columnists. She loves writing, picking out which earrings to wear and finishing the books she starts reading.

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