On Halloween, 2020, Adult Swim released a series of short films titled “adult swim smalls”. Many of these featured the work of Jack Stauber, an animator and pop musician who uses many different styles and genres to create moving, eccentric pieces of art. One of these works was “OPAL”, a 12-minute amalgamation of ballads, pop songs, and animation.
Now, I highly recommend you go watch this film before continuing on with this review. It’s a fantastic work of art and the music is pretty neat I think. Also this review will just make more sense. You will find so many different analysis videos talking about “OPAL”, so instead I’m going to discuss my own experience and feelings watching it for the first time.
Opal and the Plot Summary
I’m going to give a brief overview of “OPAL” here for people who refuse to watch the actual video. The opening scene shows a family gathered around a small, likely malnourished child named Opal as she picks up a burger and subsequently starts dancing around with it in her hand. She sees a dark, decrepit house across the street before the shutters on the top window swing open, releasing cries of anguish and despair as a ghastly presence spills out around it.
Still, she gets curious and sneaks over to this dark abode. The first thing she encounters is an old, obese smoker who calls the girl Claire. He seems to be her grandfather, and he asks her to bring him some cigarettes before launching into a tirade about how Claire shouldn’t try to get him to quit smoking because he’s fine, actually. Also, he’s likely blind.
After a while, he gets suspicious that this girl is not actually his granddaughter and starts chasing after Claire as she runs up the stairs in fear. She’s stopped by being seen through the doorway by a man surrounded by mirrors who we can believe to be Claire’s dad. He’s clearly dealing with narcissism coupled with insecurities about his appearance and hardly ever talks to Claire directly. Also, he never sees Claire’s face.
Eventually, she runs off and ends up being grabbed by a drunk, pill-abusing woman who we can assume is Claire’s mom. The mom keeps calling herself similar to or the same as Claire even if that’s not actually true. Also, she never sees Claire in focus.
Opal finally escapes and ends up in the room with the top window mentioned earlier. Through that window, she sees a billboard for “Opal’s Burgers” with the same family from the opening scene, but a healthier, well-fed girl. Claire begins to have a mental breakdown and retreats into her own head while her (probably actual) family bangs on the door to get in.
Opal and the Hamburger
The opening scene and everything to do with the first house is honestly kinda confusing to open with. I mean, it makes sense by the end, like a Tarantino movie, but it makes the later tragedy even harder to stomach. Opal’s here having a good time actually being seen by people she can consider family.
“We See You, Opal” is more of a thematic intro ballad than an actual song, so it doesn’t really leave much impact, especially since I didn’t know what “OPAL” is about yet. However, the pure, innocent joy that Opal gets just from picking up a burger is infectious.
Opal has a family who cares about her and doesn’t try to project themselves onto her and it’s really sweet. Of course, we’re only 2 minutes into the film at this point, so things were bound to get worse. The cries that come from the dark house are genuinely chilling. Opal’s dad’s warnings not to look at or think about the house are pretty spot on to how suburban parents handle local crime, homelessness, drugs, and
Black bad people. Or maybe that was just my family.
Opal and the Cigarettes
The scene with Opal/Claire and her grandfather is such a dramatic shift in tone delving into the abuse Claire faces on what is probably a daily basis. The way the grandfather’s head seems to snap around at the sound of a wood block is extremely disconcerting.
“Easy to Breathe” during this scene did not really have much going for it to be honest. I mean, thematically it works really well with how Claire is never seen for herself throughout the film, but the music itself is bland. The piano uses very simple chord progressions and the drums add basically nothing interesting. The backing vocals singing “la, la, la, la” are fun though.
Also, something I didn’t notice first time around was how claymation was implemented into “OPAL”. I’ve seen other Jack Stauber shorts before so the clay heads of the first family and Claire were not a shock, but it’s weird to see them placed in the frame so that they basically just cover the head of Stauber’s body in different outfits. Claire is the only character to get her entire body in claymation, probably so that her malnutrition can be exemplified.
Opal and the Egomaniac
On first watch, the scene between Claire and her father felt both refreshing and familiar while still bringing that disturbing touch that Stauber is often known for. Although I don’t think it’s Stauber’s intent, the father reminds me of being an “ally” to marginalized communities. He’s completely unaware of his own biases while still seeing himself as a “tiny growing thing” on a journey. And of course, he refuses to lose the audience that sees through his narcissism while he ignores any and all issues at hand.
The song “Mirror Man” in this scene creates such a dichotomy with the previous song in that this feels so sterile and clean compared to the dirtiness of “Easy to Breathe”. Also, “Mirror Man” is much more in line with the sound of Stauber’s discography outside of this film, including the voices, which he uses often. Overall, this track is definitely the most fun and enjoyable in the film, which is probably why this scene is the least impactful to the emotional punch at the end.
Now I sit here in reflection chamber
Fixing myself so that all can savor.Lyrics from “Mirror Man” by Jack Stauber
Opal and the Booze
Seeing Claire’s mother for the first time creeped me out far more than any other character thus far. Her drunken stupor is clearly something that happens quite often for Claire to have to deal with. Her narcissism is probably the most traumatizing for Claire, as Claire has to fight fear and hopelessness in order to be better than her mother who sees Claire as a reflection of herself. Her dad is more neglectful than directly abusive, and she seems to almost exist in a sort of business relationship with her grandfather.
And that song, “Virtuous Cycle,” is just so chilling. The piano is something straight out of “Friday the 13th”. The song’s breakdown at the end as a montage of the mother’s abuse plays is by far the most haunting part of the whole film. It’s unclear whether these are the mother’s own traumas that she’s relaying down to Claire or whether these are just a collection of abuses towards Claire. Either way, the use of “Mama” in the song is the most disrespectful thing to happen to Claire that we see. Claire is fully justified in not seeing that woman as family, let alone her mama.
Opal and the Hamburger (reprise)
That ending is just a punch to the gut. Opal and her family don’t actually exist, they are just the closest thing to a loving family that Claire has reference to. Her house is so isolated that she may not ever see anyone other than her relatives. The reprise of “We See You, Opal” has such a twist of irony to it now that Claire’s troubles are not “miles away” but right outside her bedroom door.
I still don’t think I’ve seen anything as creatively diverse in medium and unified in theme as “OPAL”. Stauber was responsible for all of the singing, all of the acting, much of the animation, and most, if not all of the music. I highly commend his work as an artist, and I hope you all go on to visit more of his projects.