Jumbo is a unique love story. A love story between a woman and a machine. A love story that, on its surface, may seem impossible. Ridiculous, even. But it is a love story that is engaging, powerful, and above all, true.
Jeanne (Noémie Merlant) is a shy girl. One who prefers her own company to that of others. She is fascinated by mechanical things. She works at a local amusement park and spends her free time designing models of the rides. Her mother is constantly pushing for her to date and go out, which is really the farthest thing from what Jeanne is interested in.
She is comfortable with the people she knows: her mother and the one or two friends that she has working at the park. Aside from that, she can really take or leave people in general. As she walks through the crowded park before it closes, she is clearly overwhelmed. She dodges clumsily between groups of guests, spins around in discomfort, and searches desperately for a place to escape.
She is finally at peace when the park closes and her work can begin. She is part of the janitorial staff that cleans the park after dark. And it is here that she makes the first real connection of her life.
As she cleans one of the new rides (that she has affectionately named “Jumbo”) a light flickers. She places her hand over it, wondering. Over the next few nights, she explores the ride even more. Slowly caressing its lights, cleaning them carefully... before long, the ride begins to respond. Its slow rumbling, its many colorful lights—Jeanne and the machine begin communicating with one another. When Jeanne slips from the top of the ride one evening, Jumbo carefully lowers itself to the ground and drops her to safety. From there, their interaction only intensifies.
Jeanne begins to feel an affection for Jumbo that she has never felt for another human being. She feels alive in a way she never has before. She is in love. It’s a feeling that she has never experienced, but she knows it, all the same. She and Jumbo share something powerful. Something beautiful.
The trouble comes when she tries to explain the nature of her new love to the people around her. On the surface, sure, it seems strange—falling in love with a carnival ride. But for Jeanne, it couldn’t be more simple. She is in love. All she wants is to be understood and for her emotions to be accepted. She experiences the world differently from those around her, but her thoughts and feelings are no less valid.
The brilliance of this movie is that the story doesn’t focus on whether or not Jumbo is sentient or is actually responding or how that could even be possible. The story is about Jeanne finding and experiencing love. To her, it’s real. She is experiencing feelings she has never had before. And even though they are for an inanimate object (that may or may not be reciprocating), she feels them, all the same.
Writer/director Zoé Wittock makes easy work of illustrating everything that Jeanne is feeling. It is all shown onscreen in a way that is very dynamic and beautifully realized visually. The lights and colors and sounds that are present when Jumbo and Jeanne are alone together beautifully represent the feelings of elation and freedom that she feels as she explores this new path in her life.
Noemie Merlant does an extraordinary job of bringing this character to life. We feel everything that Jeanne is going through without any of it being heavy-handed or overplayed. Her curiosity, her discomfort, her moments of bravery and elation—it’s thrilling to watch her go through this experience.
There are moments of Jeanne’s journey that are just heartbreaking. And others that fill the viewer with joy and with hope. Jeanne’s love story is a complicated one, but the important thing to remember is that it is a love that is just as real as any that exists between two human beings. Because it is a love that she feels. It exists for her, and that is enough.
Movie Score: 5/5
[Photo Credit: Above photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures.]