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‘Jumbo’ Is an Impressive, Sexy and Wild Ride

March 24, 2021
4 min read time

If slightly scary metal rides at the fair have never stirred arousal (or at the very least, caused an upchuck of guts), Belgian filmmaker Zoé Wittock will make one reconsider  and perhaps find the nearest traveling fair as soon as possible.

Jumbo tells the tale of a girl and her machine. Noémie Merlant plays Wittock’s Jeanne, who meets Jumbo somewhat by chance when she takes a job cleaning up trash in a modest country amusement park at night. For Jeanne, it’s pretty much love at first sight; but it also makes sense as she spends hours in her room building tiny models of the machines she cleans around in the comfort of darkness. 

Wittock stated she couldn’t get the idea out of her mind after reading an article.

“Browsing through the internet, I read about women who marry the Eiffel Tower ... The article didn’t teach me much, but it got my attention. How and why would someone marry it? Would they make it something public and known to the rest of the world, or would they be very quiet about it? Talking about it sparked so many debates and such extreme reactions. It really stuck with me," she said.

"While I didn’t want to tell the story of the Eiffel Tower and the women who married it, I tried to understand [objectum-sexuality] and when I did that, it really became a film ... I started writing it when I had the idea of making it a theme park ride.”

Jumbo is no ordinary theme park ride. Within Jeanne, he stirs every emotion under the sun; and thus a young love story blossoms. For Wittock, the object of the theme park ride really unlocked a lot: “People are obsessed with theme park rides. They make people feel nostalgic, excited or afraid. That object for anybody in the world will mean something.” 

Jumbo is Jeanne’s nickname for the machine. In the film he goes by the more awkward “Move It,” and Wittock said the casting for the machine was actually a monumental effort.

“We did not have any boundaries to find it. We decided no matter where it was in the world, we would bring it over. I spent a lot of time getting to know the theme park ride community here — the ones that are traveling, and we went to meet them. They are traveling with these machines like their pets," she said.

“Move It is an American ride. I loved it because it was neither too big or too small. It felt human size and I felt my character could interact with it in a realistic way. You could turn it around like a helping hand and like King Kong, it became very protective. You could find different moments of personalities and different emotions to the ride. I knew it had to be this one, but my producers told me we cannot bring this from the U.S. to Europe, so I went on for six more months of casting and looking for one in France. A month before the shoot, someone from the ride community called and knew of one traveling through France at that moment, so it felt meant to be.”

The love between Jumbo and Jeanne feels tangible and alive with much credit to Wittock and her team for managing to successfully personify a carnival ride in a way that seems not too heavy-handed or overwrought. (Jumbo emotes and makes a myriad of noises but unlike a Transformer, he does not speak).

Jumbo, for all his hulking and oil-spewing metal, certainly will challenge traditional notions of love. Wittock stated she just wanted to push the boundaries of love stories.

“Ultimately, it’s not a movie to tell you what to love or how to love, but to question you on that subject for your own sake or other people’s sakes. This is a movie where you may be moved to talk about it afterwards  that’s where I am giving another take on one of the many subjects of life.”

Of course it takes a unique and unusual woman to fall blindly for a machine, and nothing about Jeanne is ordinary. Granted, her untraditional love story causes many around her to question her sanity, namely her mother (whom Jeanne still lives with)  one half of perhaps the most heartbreaking and equally important love story of the film. It’s clear Jeanne deeply loves her mother and her yearning for acceptance emanates from every pore when she attempts to introduce her to the machine.

Wittock did not want to ever clearly state if Jeanne was suffering from any sort of mental illness.

“Labeling her as mentally ill is an easy way out. What matters is, do you believe in her story? Do you tolerate it? Celebrate it? Whatever feeling you get from it, when you are in the film it’s just all a pure emotional reaction," she said.

"One of the things that film tries to redefine is who is crazy, who is not, and who gets to decide. What if we let emotions direct that rather than scientific opinion?”

Thinking back to thrill rides as a kid, there is something indeed powerful, freeing, scary, memorable, and undeniably exciting about riding a piece of machinery meant to jostle your insides and help turn off your brain, if even for a few moments. It’s interesting to wonder how many people would be open or impressionable to a ride on Jumbo.

Objectum-sexuals often describe themselves as having animist beliefs; they ascribe a spirit or soul to objects. Wittock thinks being open to the magic of her film and to the world of Jumbo is determined by a myriad of factors.

“The traumas you’ve experienced; the more you’ve lived, the more you are open to different takes on the world. You become more attuned to your emotions," she said.

"I think if you acknowledge sensations and emotions are really scary  and if you are great enough to be open to them  you respond the most to Jumbo. The more you’re in your head, the more you try to make sense of certain things, the less you might be open to him. This movie was such a challenge, and exciting and riveting for me because it forced me to think very simply. I think for Jeanne, her subconscious understands before the brain can make sense of it.” 

As Jeanne goes through the ups and downs of young love, Wittock and her team take the audience on a true ride through sound, color, a captivating soundtrack, and Jeanne’s own sensual experiences that is quite unlike any other love story in recent memory.

Jeanne’s determination and confidence in love is ultimately what causes the roller-coaster ride of a movie to soar. She never waivers in her belief, her feelings, or her blind hope that love can make all things possible. That is indeed a breath of fresh air, much like when Jumbo takes a person through a heart-in-mouth hairpin turn and back up toward the sky again.

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