Unicorns, Fairies and Magic Swords: Todd Cole’s This Must Be the Only Fantasy

In recent years many fashion houses have experimented with cinema, and I’m not referring to fashion designers who become costume designers, but to short movies. Brands often collaborate with an emerging director to produce an advertising campaign in moving images. In most cases there’s no plot, but simply a series of shots – completed by music and (in case) special effects – showing clothing and accessories. This is the reason why I’ve always felt these short movies are pretentious and vapid, but today I was glad to be proven wrong by the collaboration between Rodarte’s Kate and Laura Mulleavy and the fashion photographer Todd Cole. This Must Be the Only Fantasy is a 13-minute movie imbued with cinematic references, a captivating story with some interesting moments and an enthralling soundtrack by the Beach House.


gameThe opening scene seems to come from an episode of Freaks and Geeks [1]: some boys and a girl are waiting for one of their friends, the Dungeon Master, to arrive and start the game, but they are waiting in vain.

vlcsnap-2013-08-14-21h03m15s188Lora (Sydney Williams) is particularly pissed off by what seems to be the nth no-show of Trevor, the Master. She leaves the house with a dice set in a glass, but when she steps outside, something happens. The ordinary world – in this case a residential district in Encino (California) – has gone through a metamorphosis; the board game the girl was ready to play with her friends is now her own world. The presence of the extraordinary in an ordinary setting is nothing new (think of the distruptive effect the presence of Edward Scissorhands has in the life of the town with no name where the Tim Burton movie is set), but here the contrast between elements of fantasy imagery and a nice neighbourhood is particularly striking.

unicornLora is a beautiful blonde girl who apparently embodies the archetype of the damsel in distress. As it often happens in fantasy novels, she needs no knight in shining armour, because she’s in charge and takes action without any help from others. This is another interesting element of the movie: the main point of view is the protagonist’s, so this is her own fantasy (word which has a double meaning, referring to Lora’s reverie and to the genre the film is paying homage to). Any heroine must have a horse and Lora’s is a unicorn, which she finds in a recreation ground, sitting in a sandpit. Such a choice is obvious, since unicorns are symbols of purity and grace [2] and are often featured in fantasy films, like Ridley Scott’s Legend.

princessAny fantasy adventure is filled with trials and dangerous situations, through which the hero/heroine must pass before completing his/her quest. If you read Beowulf, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or Chrétien de Troyes Perceval, le Conte du Graal, for example, you’ll see a goal is never easily attainable nor taken for granted. Lora’s enemy is a knight wearing a black and red cape, whose face is always hidden, but she also finds other spiteful people. Two boys call her “princess” and want her to drink something with them; she accepts, but the invitation hides a nasty joke.

vlcsnap-2013-08-14-21h08m35s58Lora gets into a house where she meets a supernatural creature, appearing as a ball of light.

fairyIt’s a fairy (Guinevere Van Seenus) who gives her a sword, the weapon that will help her to defeat her enemy. This scene is filled with references to King Arthur’s legend: Excalibur is the most famous swords of the king, while Guinevere (the name of the model playing the fairy) is Arthur’s beloved wife.

swordNow Lora is ready to defeat her enemy. It’s unclear if she has magic powers, but the sword surely does: it shines like a lightsaber [3].

redShe meets again the black knight in front of Trevor’s house and she defeats him thanks to the sword, which emits a powerful flash of light. When she enters the house, she meets a man sitting in front of a fireplace, who says Trevor is in his room. This is probably the boy’s father, but we don’t get to know anything else about him.

vlcsnap-2013-08-14-21h13m15s46Trevor (Elijah Wood) is sitting in a dark room, lighted only by neons on which he’s sitting. He’s on a sort of throne, surrounded by cables and video game consoles. This is a very important scene: he looks like a king who has been defeated; he’s tired and willing to surrender. The way in which Trevor is sitting and in which his room is arranged reminds me of two images from Katsuhiro Otomo’s AkiraTetsuo sitting on a throne of crumbling stone and Kaneda surrounded by motorcycle engines, sitting in front of Tetsuo’s throne. I don’t think this is a coincidence, because the Mulleavys have often credited mangas and animes as one of their sources of inspiration. The choice to feature Wood in this film is not coincidental either, since he’s world-wide known for his role in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

vlcsnap-2013-08-14-21h14m09s73Trevor has no sceptre but a crown for Lora: she wears it, thus becoming the new Master.

vlcsnap-2013-08-14-21h14m59s66The ordinance is complete only when the girl sits on Trevor’s armchair. The majesty of the moment is emphasized by a golden light surrounding the protagonist and filling the room she’s in.

vlcsnap-2013-08-14-21h15m16s230We don’t know what happens after she becomes Master: we are not given details on her return to ordinary life, but we only see her leaving a house in the morning (her house?), wearing the same jeans and grey hoodie she was wearing the night before.

The fantasy genre has clearly a central role in the short film, but I can also find a more subdued element which reminds me of J. J. Abrams’ Super 8: it’s probably the suspension of disbelief or maybe the fact that such an adventure could only be lived by a child or a teenager.

collectionBesides the many cinema and literary references in the film, there’s a place for fashion, too. Lora and the fairy wear clothes and accessories (shoes and peculiar earrings) from the spring 2013 collection by Rodarte, which features elements echoing the world of fantasy. The first outfit includes a white top with black triangle on the front and the leather pants I wrote about some time ago; this is probably my favourite look because it’s very graphic and beautifully compliments the idea of a modern-time heroine riding a unicorn.

The story ends as it began, in a setting which can be easily perceived as familiar. The return to real life puts us in front of a series of questions, similar to those the readers of The Wizard of Oz ask themselves at the end of the story: has the heroine really lived this adventure or it is just the result of her imagination? The answer is up to us.


[1] In that show the Master was Harris Trinsky.

[2] Moreover, the legend says only a virgin could capture a unicorn.

[3] Star Wars is definitely a science fiction saga but it contains fantasy elements, too.


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