Tower is an exceptional documentary piece about tragic events that happened on one inconspicuous afternoon in 1966. It blends both animation and real-life footage in a somewhat surprisingly seamless fashion. The line-artopia style disarms us a little but by the time we get used to it, the point is clear- In a recount of devastating events that still haunts its victims till today, the animation portrays the subjects in a different way than usual…so that we see a different ‘shade’ to the people involved. It seems like a very deliberate way to do it, and after all it is only just visual re-representation. But Tower is always authentic in its approach and perhaps even more so as it re-creates scenes from the words and emotions of its subjects. In a sense, it’s able to bring to life the trauma and events that had taken place which would not have been possible if they simply stuck with the limited raw footage that was available.
One would assume that including animation would make it feel gimmicky. The truth is that not only does it feel original, there’s a heightened sense of realism that’s being shown before our eyes. Subjects were drawn to their younger selves and their words were voiced by a younger actor. But the words were all theirs. By transporting us to their past selves, the Texas University shooting tragedy becomes a visceral and powerful experience. It connects with us because we were once young and oblivious and we could see ourselves being caught in a sudden whirlwind without the faintest clue. To some, the animation looks too rough around the edges but I found the unpolished style quite fitting.
In the end, Tower does such a masterful job at blending different styles in re-telling the events of the shooting. More important than it’s idiosyncratic visual design is how it constantly searches for true feeling. The lingering recesses of guilt,regret,anxiety and pain are explored even as the events have long since passed and provide insight into the scars within the human soul. Moving towards the social message of the film, Tower is a powerful reminder that normalcy in everyday life can suddenly go horribly awry.
But because it’s so sensitive to the feelings of its subjects, Tower let’s the raw and real emotions flow. And slowly, we begin to see the subjects not simply as subjects for the purpose of the documentary…we don’t even see them as the victimized; We see them as people just like us, imperfect at times, sometimes shaken, holding on to the hope that our fellow man will find the strength to rise above; And if others don’t have the strength, then may we have it in us. It was altogether very life-affirming even as it explored its subjects’ darkest day.