Gender Dysphoria and Mental Health
Torrey Pines is a stop-motion animated feature film by director Clyde Petersen. It is based on his true story and is a queer punk coming-of-age tale that is set in Southern California in the early 1990’s. Peterson was raised by a schizophrenic single mother and his life story is seen in a series of baffling and hallucinated events. Peterson’s mother was fueled by hallucinations of political conspiracy and family dysfunction and when he is twelve-years-old, Petersen is kidnapped and taken on a cross-country adventure that will forever alter what he thought was his family.
This is a 60-minute stop-motion film that deals with such issues as gender dysphoria and mental health. As a young child Peterson was called Whitney; as a girl on the edge of puberty, she felt that that she did not want breasts and to get periods. He mother takes her off on a trip across the US, which seems like a great adventure. They visited everywhere from the Grand Canyon to the White House. However, there was a problem in that Whitney’s mother also believes there are aliens and reptile people. “Torrey Pines” is a movie with no dialogue–– visuals and narrative tell the story. This means that the film sometimes relies on the audience to fill in the gaps even when we are not sure of what is happening. It works extremely well for the movie since we have, two people who are both experiencing the fact that the external world doesn’t match what they believe in their minds. One of two is dealing with the fact their gender isn’t what is written on the birth certificate; the other person just might be having a complete schizophrenic breakdown. These are embedded into the story and we see Whitney’s
gender dysphoria as part of her growing realization of her world (something she’s particularly aware of when she sees things such as her mother with no clothes on). Likewise, her mother’s mental health issues are seen through the eyes of a child who doesn’t fully comprehend what’s going on.
The style of the movie is captivating and the stop-motion, at first, looks rather child-like, like a kid’s pictures cut out and animated in a very simple style. However, it’s much more complex with a multi-plane camera used so that we see it in a way designed to look as flat as a child’s painting, it manages to be sculptural and three-dimensional at the same time.
There are scenes that are beautiful and ugly, simple and complex at the same time and those of us who are willing to be pulled in to a child’s view of the world are totally drawn into the humor and how ideas are expressed. Others may not like it all. You must really let yourself give into the film to understand and enjoy it.
I found it to be a fascinating experience, especially because it deals with some important issues and vibrantly does so giving us a child’s view of gender dysphoria and mental health issues in the family.