Outsiders; ‘Norm and Ahmed’, “Happy Feet” and “The Arrival”
An Outsider is a person who is excluded from, or is not a member of a group.They can be seen to be merely out of place.Other factors, however, can make a person in the ‘right place’ feel like they do not belong.
This is evident when exploring Alex Buzo’s script “Norm and Ahmed”, George Miller’s animation film “Happy Feet” and the Shaun Tan’s graphic novel “The Arrival”. Through utilising a range of language features and techniques, composers are able to emphasise the idea of ‘the outsider’ in these three texts.
Alex Buzo’s script “Norm and Ahmed” depicts a late-night encounter between a typical old Australian working class man and a young Pakistani undergraduate. The concept of outsiders is explored in great detail throughout the script. At first, Ahmed appears to be the clear outsider in the script, as the stage directions and choice of costume are used to convey his sense of alienation and discomfort with the situation; a dark skinned person wearing a “Nehru-styled suit” acting “edges away warily”, “taking them cautiously” suggesting Ahmed’s agitation and fear when interacting with Norm.
Register is also used to demonstrate that Ahmed does not belong, for even though he speaks English fluently, his extremely formal language and perfect grammar such as “I crave your forgiveness”, reveal him to be the outsider. This contrasts with Norm’s very Australian colloquialisms and slang, “bash you”, “old piss-pots”, “poofter” showing his ease with the Australian dialect. These factors all combine to make Ahmed seem to be feeling as if he is in the wrong place. Another character who seems to be in the wrong place is the protagonist in the graphic novel “The Arrival”.
Shaun Tan uses a sequence of photos showing the protagonist going through customs in a new country. The character’s gestures, such as outstretched palms and scratching his head signify confusion as well as his frustrated facial expressions all show him to be misunderstood. Finally, the picture showing his bent over with his head in his hands shows his helplessness and feeling of defeat. This character feels out of place; an outsider. This feeling is also evident in the film “Happy Feet”.
Mumble’s sense of exclusion is accentuated in the graduation party scene, where the camera pans from group of penguin singing and dancing in unison to a single tap dancing penguin, Mumble, who is facing the wrong way. There is some empty space between him and the group, which also physically shows his outsider status. The following scene shows him exiled to a small dark iceberg looking up at the party in the distance. It is a low angle wide shot making him look small and lonely in comparison. This all contributes to the idea that he is an outsider, although technically he is in the right place.
Mumble’s outsider status shows that being in the wrong place is only one element contributing to the notion of an outsider. Many other reasons for being an outsider have been explored through these three texts. The animated film “Happy Feet” is about a young penguin, Mumble who is expelled from his penguin community because he dances his feelings, rather than singing them. The animators highlight Mumble’s lack of belonging by making him physically different from the other penguins, he has blue eyes and keeps his baby feathers when his peers are fully developed.
Mumble is initially considered part of the penguin community but his differences in appearance and ability act as barriers which prevent him from being an insider. Even though technically he is in the ‘right place’, he is still an outsider. Another character who appears to be in the ‘right place’ but reveals himself to be an outsider, is Norm. Initially Norm engineers the conversation with Ahmed by pretending not to have a lighter. Later he admits, “I get a little lonely (…) I like to have a nice chat with a bloke (…) A bloke like you, for instance”.
Norm’s obvious loneliness adds to his outsider status. He doesn’t belong to a close family or social group and is compelled to talk to strangers. Norm’s age, education and social class all contribute to make him part of a dying breed, the “old school Australian”. He does not necessarily belong in the emerging multicultural Australia that Ahmed embodies. By saying “I was only thinking that if you didn’t have a dark skin you’d be alright. I mean, it’d be all right for you to stay here, like, get a job and stay in this country. ”, he reveals his racism and rejection of multiculturalism.
His subsequent senseless beating of Ahmed also demonstrates Norm’s instability and violence and this further reinforces his outsider status. By breaking the laws of society, he automatically becomes an outsider to the mainstream. Norm and Mumble are not the only characters who are becoming outsiders in their own place. In “The Arrival”, Tan draws with great detail, a bleak city with huge, ominous, black shadows resembling dragon’s tails suggesting evil all over the buildings and roads. A high angle long shot shows how insignificant his family is in this big, empty city.
This reveals a growing sense of insecurity and uncertainty of the family’s future in their own country. They no longer feel as though they belong there. Therefore after studying the three texts, it is apparent that the sentence “An outsider is merely just a person in the wrong place” is only partially correct. Ahmed, Mumble and the persona in the Arrival are all outsiders by virtue of being in the wrong place; Ahmed with his extremely formal language, brown skin and his foreign attire, the persona in “The Arrival” with his language barrier and Mumble for his inability to sing.
However, although Mumble can’t sing, he is a penguin and is therefore technically in the’right place’. He is an outsider because he looks and acts differently to the other penguins. The persona “The Arrival” leaves his homeland because he is starting to feel like an outsider in his own place, as does Norm with his racism, loneliness and violence. In conclusion; anyone, in any place can be an outsider.