Deucalion & Pyrrha is a sci-fi parable that seeks knowledge from the underground. The stratigraphy of this film layers narrative symbology and cinematic methodology, each informing the other in subtle but critical layers.
At the core, Deucalion & Pyrrha is a local contemporary story with characters inspired by both Greek figures Deucalion and Pyrrha (Prometheus and Hesione’s son, and Epimetheus and Pandora’s daughter) and the Māori mythology surrounding the figures of the children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku. The setting references post-earthquake Ōtautahi in Te Waipounamu and the Tongariro Crossing in Te Ika-a-Māui. Cross-referencing cultures near and far and bringing together the art forms of dance, animation, film-making and sculpture, this work strives to acknowledge the silent primordial ancestor in all of this – geology.
Myriad cultures across time have made sense of the ground and underground through creator mythology, fairy tales and science fiction. The most recent narrative of the ground being expressed as the Anthropocene (or Chthulucene, or Capitalocene). Deucalion & Pyrrha uses these modes of knowledge-sharing to tell a narrative about renewal, cycles, and a continually mobile geology. It’s about a moment in the turbulence of deep time.
The urgency and intimacy of the material ground and how it can be accessed to gain a pivotal experience is important. The environment erodes and reforms between Anthropocene geology and Holocene geology, which directly leads character development, describing an instruction that lies in the material. Today, access to the ground is highly restricted and privatised by economic structures, but in the alternative archaeology of this world, the ground is raw, open and accessible while retaining full reign over its inhabitants.
The transformative pivotal experience of going underground presents itself in distinct ways across many popular science fiction feature films, but when the protagonist emerges from their journey under the earth, the result is always the same – they know something new, and an alternative future is possible. Prometheus, Dune, 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, Counterpart, Stargate, The Core, Stranger Things, Annihilation, Blade Runner 2049, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Matrix, The Abyss – many to mention, and they all contain digging, tunnelling, or exhumations that alter the future. As a fundamental goal, Deucalion & Pyrrha seeks to establish character transitions via the underground as a tradition in its own right. The earliest works of science fiction inform these films such as the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh and Ovid’s Metamorphoses which feature descent to an underworld, a Chthonic Descent.
Finally, time is critical in the stratigraphy of this work. The work magnifies the human experience of living on a biological scale within the deep time of geology. The expression of time is layered in both the structure and the narrative, each informing the other. The structural playback loop is built into the narrative, so time becomes cyclical opposed to linear. The work also nods to the ‘one-take’ cinema tradition – a long continuous shot by a single camera from start to finish (or, in this case, manufactured to give the impression it was). Historically the one-take film is a self-issued challenge of the director and pushes the limits of the entire film set, demanding elaborate camera and actor choreography. For this work, the one-take device removes the sense of passing time that we inherently know exists between cuts, another subtle but critical layer in the stratigraphy of Deucalion & Pyrrha.