Listless protagonist? Check. A grainy, black-and-white universe? Check. An unexpectedly heart-warming ending? Well, considering Stephen Irwin’s short opens at the scene of a delinquent bear’s death, you can assume the DNA it shares with David Lynch’s classic Eraserhead does not extend to its conclusion. But then again, Moxie isn’t shooting for subtext. Despite its glitchy editing and stabs of textbook surrealism, it wears surprisingly raw emotions on its fuzzy sleeve.
After revealing the bear’s fate, the film winds back to Monday to describe his last few days through a softly spoken narrator. With the death of his mother rendering him taut and hostile, the bear lashes out with acts of masochism (a lemon juice enema is merely the first of a two-part process), pyromania, and grisly violence. In one engaging montage, these expressions of anger are juxtaposed with a scene of him and his spectral mother waltzing in a field of stars. There’s a perverse comic value to witnessing the chirpy bottle-nosed critters that follow the bear around getting impaled to the strains of Johann Strauss Jr., but it is to Irwin’s credit that the mother’s absence is sincerely felt. We’re told there was a time where she would make her son feel better with just a smile and a squeeze of his paw, but with her now gone, he’s in free-fall.
Irwin’s fusion of styles and textures reflect the protagonist’s inner turmoil perfectly. The bear himself is a restless black blur of largely indistinguishable features, at once clashing and meshing with his decaying dollhouse of a home. There appears to be a kind of banal suburbia beyond his garden fence, but it is one he never ventures into. His forays into space – where, in a subtly devastating flourish, the bear contemplates his inevitably meagre role in the “millions of years of bear evolution” – lend the film some breathing space from these overtly grim locations.
Despite the occasionally vulgar imagery – leading to the amusing censorship of certain lines and appendages – these moments rarely take you out of the story. Moxie tackles edgy themes with humour and grace, and while it’s hardly a work of unrelenting optimism, in being such an affecting piece the film answers questions that the little tormented bear could not. As he notes in his final moments, living is very difficult, but it is films as touching as this that remind us just what we have to live for.