Thoughts on Porter Robinson’s “Shelter”

[Description]: A reactionary dialogue concerning the 6-minute music video.

Initially I wasn’t going to write anything on the topic of Shelter because I felt that the music video kind of spoke for itself. However, given the general buzz surrounding it and the various reactions I’ve seen, I thought I’d submit my own contrasting thoughts on the video. That isn’t to say that I disliked it – quite the opposite. I was on the lookout for its release because of my familiarity with Porter and Madeon and of course A-1 Pictures and the video offered a nice little vignette put to music I found enjoyable.

Where I would differ from the alleged majority of people is in my emotional reaction to the video. Watching anime these days, half the time I can’t tell whether the dramatic narrative possesses a critical flaw in its presentation or if I’ve just been desensitized to the point where I can’t enjoy it in the same way other people can. With that said, I’m able to invest myself in plenty of shows and I find myself emotionally involved often  enough so for the time being I’ll have to side with the former possibility and that I’m not some kind of cruel, robotic person devoid of feeling. At least not yet.

Now before I go any further, I want to preface that those people who did have a genuine, tear-filled, emotional response to the video – I’m not belittling them. The fact that they were able to enjoy the video to that extent is wonderful and I wish I were able to get so much out of so little. But this is perhaps Shelter’s most problematic element. It’s brevity speaks to an inherent inability to conjure up a story with the capacity for any grand, emotional investment. It’s 6 minutes long and that’s an incredible challenge in terms of storytelling.

Shelter is beautiful. It possesses a nice, vibrant aesthetic and a handful of breathtaking visuals both in and outside of the flashback that takes place later in the video. Its settings and imagery are highly evocative of exactly what the music video wants to say. Rin’s digital world is vast,  colorful, lively, and subject to change at her slightest whim. It’s easy to sense the kind of wonder and and fantasy through the video’s visuals in this way. Similarly, we get a strong impression of the world outside of the one she knows, through her flashback and the ending imagery of the cold and mechanical artifice keeping her alive and immersed in this digital plane. It’s barren, lonely, and full of devastation and these concepts directly parallel the scenes before them.

So the imagery is spot-on, wonderfully directed, and gorgeous to look at. And this is first and foremost what a music video should be. The fact that it’s telling a story is compelling yet comes secondary to the nature of the video. This can be seen in how it actively neglects telling any kind of story for the better part of its run – instead opting to illustrate the wonder and beauty of Rin’s world in juxtaposition to the song rather than fully delving into the potential story at hand. This isn’t a bad thing but simply a choice that was made.

So what of the emotional story that Shelter does exhibit? It’s a touching vignette but for me, a far cry from anything tear-inducing. I feel that, the people that were able to attach themselves to the 6-minute video to the point of emotional reaction, would have reacted much the same and suffered the same pang of sadness had I simply described the story to them in what would likely be one-sentence. That isn’t to downplay the impact the visuals have upon Shelter’s presentation but it’s ultimately more style than substance. There isn’t much in the way of interpretive imagery and while you can sense Rin’s loneliness and isolation, this is done in a fairly straightforward way.

So in short, I liked the video. It was well-animated, put to music I enjoyed, and presented a brief yet touching story. The emotional impact and narrative longevity however I feel isn’t quite there and that, unless the face-value of the story is enough to evoke a sense of sadness in you, then there isn’t much else to it. Which is perfectly fine. It’s good, but not some kind of masterwork of dramatic storytelling. To add a quick note about a somewhat comical critique I’ve seen about the video – why didn’t her father just build a pod for two people? I think it’s charitable to think that, given his clear ability to invent such an apparatus for his daughter that he was some kind of capable scientist and that he was likely needed elsewhere in such a dire time. Perhaps not an issue of practicality but rather one of responsibility. I hope to see more of this kind of artistic collaboration in the future.


4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Porter Robinson’s “Shelter”

  1. I was expecting a strong emotional outburst but when I actually got around to watching it, I didn’t feel anything that invoked my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, the music and animation were breathtaking but the story that they were trying to tell was not that well based to move me to tears. I ended up liking the song more than the video in fact, I have it on loop right now. But that was a good use for 6-minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While I enjoyed it for what it was, the presentation of the  story wasn’t enough to really move me in any meaningful way. I thought “aw, that’s really sad” near the end, but that was as far as it got.  Then I started wondering if what the father did was to Rin’s benefit or not. Sure she get’s to live, but it’s in complete isolation. She may have been fine all these years, but after recieving the nessage from her father and remembering him, would she be able to continue to be fine?

    Not to mention she’s stuck in a pod for her whole life. If that simulation fails and she get’s kicked out, would she be able to go back in? Would she know how to go back in? Would she be able to fix it? Would it even be repairable? Would she even surive being disconnected from it? Also I’m assuming the pod is supplying her with the neccessarry nutrient for human survival. What if that breaks? Would she be left to starve to death? I feel her best option is to luckily land on an inhabited alien planet and become a superhero die to the difference in the sun and gravity. Anyway this is jyst me over thinking and nitpicking a small detail in what amounts to a well made 6 minute music video.

    To add to the bit about the father not building a pod for two people, it was also stated in the letter/message he left that there wasn’t enough time. But to find that out you’d have to know Japanese or dig for a translation. Here’s one provided by a reddit user:

    Liked by 1 person

    • There are certainly some things one can extrapolate from Rin’s position and I have to imagine in most scenarios where something goes wrong, she’d just die. It would have made for an interesting end to the video if it had showed the pod reaching its destination and Rin awakening from her immersion after years but it opted for more of a book-ended, sentimental conclusion. I remember reading a translation of the letter and from what I remember he was actually lamenting what little time there was for him to spend with her. It mentions that he couldn’t come with her later on but for an unspecified reason.

      Liked by 1 person

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