Shaun Tan is an Australian illustrator, author of children’s books and projected fiction cover artist. “The Lost Thing” was originally published as a picture book for children in 2000. The screen adaptation of the story was released in 2010 and it won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film the following year. “The Lost Thing” tells the story of a boy who discovers a bizarre lost creature at the beach and sets out to find somewhere it can belong. Tan draws from a large source of inspiration and cites many influences on his work.
His inspiration in creating “The Lost Thing” was as he began to imagine a world where this was the only illustrated literature available, where everything was fully explained, clear and functional, including all verbal and visual language, all meaning predefined. If something playful and absurd suddenly appeared in this world, the reaction of the people would show the sense of acceptance and connections established. This became the real subject of the story, not so much the problem of a lost creature as outlined by the text.
Tan is omnivorous when it comes to influences, and he loves to admit this openly. Some influences are very direct and the strong language utilise conveys Tan’s awareness of the situation. “The Lost Thing” is a powerful example where Tan makes visual references to famous artworks. Many of his influences are a lot more subtle visually; some of the influences are ideological. INSIGHTS A sense of belonging can emerge from the connections made with people, places and the larger world. It is connections that influence where one searches for meaning in ones lives and ultimately where one belongs.
This is shown throughout the short film ‘The Lost Thing’. When Tan uses “The Lost Thing” as a salient object it portrays the message that not everyone feels affiliated within a community. It is clearly portrayed throughout the short film that the creature and the central character aren’t accepted by society, the two protagonists have limited connections with the people around them, hence creating a relationship, and sense of community between themselves. One belongs when one feels connected to others and the world.
These connections between people display their place in the world, and their acceptance by society. The restricted sense of acceptance by the characters conveys the message that they are clearly separated from the society around them. This builds the relationship between the two characters as they both have the similarity of not being accepted. This forms a connection with the two central characters starting the sense that they are accepted. Reciprocity is essential to forming a sense of belonging. This notion highlights the disconnections that the creature has with the society.
The relationship the protagonist creates with “The Lost Thing” creates a mutual exchange of favours between the two, as the protagonist starts to feel privileged whilst creating the relationship with the creature. The mutual feeling is shaped as the protagonist sets out to discover where the creature is accepted and has connections with others around it, joining the wider world. Techniques “The Lost Thing” is a dominant metaphor for the creature on the beach as not only is it a reference about the abandoned creature; it is also inherent within the title.
Often one feels pressured to conform to societal expectations. “The Lost Thing” is large; however everyone ignores it due to society’s indifference. In other words you have to conform to belong to such a society in order to be accepted. As the protagonist is chucking things into “The Lost Thing’s” head, a bright glow illuminates the area around the creature and the boy while the background is faded to black. This colour symbolisation metaphorically, puts forth the sense of self gained and enhanced through their common lack of connection.
This sense of acceptance that the two displayed for one another established their affiliation, the audience gains this understanding due to the colour choice of yellow, depicting hope and light. Tan’s choice to then place the colour/bright glow around the protagonists head, provides a biblical allusion, reinforcing the ‘spiritual’ connection between the two. The directorial choices made by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan portray the loneliness of “The Lost Thing” and the protagonist.
Where the protagonist is walking against the flow of people with “The Lost Thing” displays his individuality from the masses and the sense that they don’t belong. The juxtaposition Tan uses throughout the film has the effect of irony of how the contrasting creatures feel accepted by each other. In the end, the choices made by Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan display how the protagonist is accepted and that he found his place in society. The frame zooms out showing that his tram is identical to the many others around it showing the similarities with the other people in the community.
The powerful use of symbolism emphasises the deep red rusty colours of the industrialised environment. The colour “red” also emphasises the inherent use of danger. However, the lonely character throws that worry to side to try to find his place of acceptance. The narration throughout the short film also conveys the message of no association with the society. The use of tone used in the narrator’s voice portrays a dull sound emphasising sadness and loneliness. This tone builds an effect on the audience as it conveys the meaning of how it feels to not be accepted.