Follow TV Tropes


Western Animation / The Spine of Night

Go To

The Spine Of Night is a 2021 dark fantasy adult animation, written and directed by Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King, and created using rotoscoped animation.

The movie traces, across the eras, the story of the many people affected by the power of a magical bloom, and the blood and black magic it inspired, framed as a story told by a witch to the guardian as she tries to convince him to give her the final bloom he protects.



  • An Aesop:
    • Knowledge is meant to be shared, not hoarded.
    • The pursuit of power should not be mistaken by the pursuit of knowledge, and ritualistic beliefs should not be mistaken with the truth.
    • Human existence is meaningless. Better to embrace the beauty of this truth than to resist it. The quest for personal power is futile, since we all die eventually.
  • The Anti-Nihilist: Dae and Gull, unlike most people who've discovered the secret behind the bloom, take the realization that their lives are inherently meaningless rather well, and find it beautiful. They even accept their fate peacefully when Ghal-Sur's men surround them.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Bloom, a blue flower that grows in Tzod's swamp and the Guardian's Mountain that grants magical fire, healing powers, and with the right rituals, immortality, Shock and Awe, and Mind over Matter.
  • Advertisement:
  • Arc Words: "See the stars", and variations of it.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil:
    • Lord Pyrantin is a spoiled brat of a prince who decides to flex his power by calling scholars to record him killing and torturing a witch he apprehended after killing her people.
    • The classism of the Pantheon is shown to be nothing but a dickish sense of superiority over the peasants that are starving and angry outside their doors. Although it is called out that if they just taught some of the knowledge they had stored to the peasants, they could survive by themselves, The Inquisitor refuses to even share their knowledge with the lower class.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: While imprisoned by Lord Pyrantin, Tzod asks Ghar-Sul "to what end do you seek?" in the middle of his rant. The question has a heavy effect on him.
  • Awful Truth: Represented by the Bloom, the revelation that the universe is a capricious, uncaring place in which nothing has intrinsic meaning or value.
  • Back from the Dead: The narrator, Tzod, is shown to have died in the first segment, near the end of the movie it's revealed that the attack led against Ghal-Sur caused a bloom to fall in a river and find her corpse, ressurrecting her.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Initially, Ghal-Sur seems like he has Tzod's best interests at heart. Then, once they escape the dungeon and Tzod kills Lord Pyrantin, he stabs her in the back and leaves her to bleed to death, making his way off with the bloom. And he only gets infinitely worse from there.
  • Big Bad: Ghal-Sur ends up taking the power of the Bloom and setting himself up as an almighty conqueror. Most of the runtime is about eventually stopping him.
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: Tzod is dead, but so is Ghal-Sur, and now the Bloom is going to seed everywhere and be available to everyone, making it much less likely for another Big Bad to emerge and for everyone to benefit from its knowledge and power - though it's also made pretty clear that most people will have a very hard time coping with the Awful Truth that the Bloom communicates.
  • Blood Magic: Ghal-Sur demands a lot of blood to make a great ritual. He instigates a revolt to make the peasants and the guards kill each other and spill the blood. He's later shown to have prepared an entire room for himself in his palace for blood-related magic, with tables that drain blood from corpses and a pool of blood in the middle of which he meditates.
  • Body Motifs: Eyes. Eyes are a recurring focus, especially when it comes to magic:
    • The people brainwashed through magic are shown to have their eyes made completely blue. Continuous use of the bloom also appears to turn irises to blue.
    • The ritual that is realized in the second segment of the movie causes a huge blue eye to appear in the torso of the caster. Right after the caster is shown summoning an eye made of blue fire in the sky. The books that detail the ritual are also found underneath a giant one-eyed statue.
    • During the origin of the bloom segment, most character are portrayed as shadows with only their eyes and teeth visible. Also in that segment, a scene associated the bloom with eyes when the first person to use the bloom has a vision of the bloom coming from dozens of blue eyes in the dark sky.
  • Book Burning: In Phae-Agura's story, the peasants of Pyre, struck by famine while the scholars inside the Pantheon live in comfort, are on the verge of riot and want to burn the books and take all the Pantheon's food stores for themselves. Once freed from the Pantheon, Ghal-Sur destroys it completely, burning down all the books, which is likely to keep the knowledge in it from being learned by anyone else.
  • Central Theme: Knowledge, and the attitude humans should have in relation to it, even in the face of truly dangerous or upsetting knowledge.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The bird trio say they should tear Ghar-Sul's black heart from its cage. In the end, Tzod does exactly that.
  • Color Motif: Blue. The color of the bloom, and by extensions the magic its user can cast, are blue, and therefore blue is associated with power in the narrative.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: One of the effects of using the Bloom is an awareness that all of humanity's struggle is insignificant on the cosmic scale, and that even the gods are trapped in a cycle of destruction they can't escape.
  • David vs. Goliath: The first men led a battle against the gods (called The Sons, as they were sons of another higher god) that created them, accusing them of being uncaring and cruel gods, since they did not care for their creations or how their later creations affected them. The first king of men led them into long hunt intent on killing The Sons in their sleep. The Sons were gargantuan giants, while the men were normal humans. Although most were killed in their sleep, the last one woke and an army of humans fought him.
  • Decoy Protagonist: The Swamp Witch, Tzod, is the first character introduced, and the first central character in the story, so it seems she is to be the hero of the story, but she is more of a narrator for it, and the central character shifts in each segment of the movie. Tzod is the protagonist of the overarching story, however, making this a downplayed example.
  • Dem Bones: To defeat Ghal-Sur, Tzod summons the previous guardians' skeletons to fight.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Mongrel, who makes no secret of his dislike for Lord Pyrantin and the "civilization" of Pyre, and it's made very clear that this guy is important, and not just a mindless enforcer. One of the most subtly shocking moments in the movie is the reveal that Mongrel became king, ruled for a pretty long time, and died - all within a time skip. This sets up the movie's much broader time frame, as well as introducing its themes of the futility of most of humanity's endeavours. He was important, but only during his own lifetime, so not that important in the grand scheme of things.
  • Durable Deathtrap: Ostensibly defied. Phae-Agura, telling Inquisitor Uruq the story of how she acquired some ancient tomes, says she had heard a rumour that the chamber containing the books was trapped, but she encountered no such trap. This foreshadows that the books themselves were the trap...
  • Eldritch Abomination: Sort of. The Sons are primordial giants born of a dead god whose severed head created the world, and within their remains, flowers that grant arcane abilities to those who use them – along with the horrid revelation that humanity's struggles are pointless, and they're ultimately apathetic to said struggles. Although they go down pretty easily when swarmed and impaled by spears.
  • Exposed to the Elements: Tzod never wears anything more than some bone jewelry, even when climbing an icy mountain peak.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Ghal-Sur grows a giant eyeball on his torso at one point.
  • Facial Horror: In the opening act, Tzod attacks Lord Pyrantin with blue fire and burns all the skin of his face off, excepting his chin. The result is very gruesome.
  • Foil: The God-King and The Guardian. Although morally very different and their different actions, both of them stand in opposition to Tzod in their desire to keep the bloom, and by extension the knowledge it metaphorically and physically represents, from the entirety of humanity. While the God-King believes he is the only one worthy of the power and the knowledge of the bloom, and explicitly hoards both to himself, the Guardian has a selfless desire to spend his entire life alone protecting the knowledge the bloom gifts the user with due to how upsetting he finds that knowledge to be and considering it something man kind should never have. Tzod opposes both of them in the end, believing that humanity should be gifted with the knowledge and the bloom and share them among themselves.
  • Foreshadowing: The images in the blue fire that Tzod shows Lord Pyrantis hint at what would come in later story segments:
    • The crowned man that she shows is later shown to be the first king of men.
    • The large eye with a skull in the pupil is later shown to resemble the eye that Ghal-Sur summons in his body with a blood sacrifice.
    • The three flying birds are a reference to the three bird-themed warriors that appear in a later segment.
  • Genre Throwback: To the rotoscope-heavy Darker and Edgier Sword and Sorcery cartoons of the 1980s and very late '70s. Things like Fire & Ice, certain segments of Heavy Metal, and even Ralph Bakshi's version of The Lord of the Rings. More broadly, the film can also be taken as a throwback to old-school Low Fantasy Sword and Sorcery in general, especially the kind that overlapped with the Cosmic Horror Story - works by Clark Ashton Smith or especially Robert E. Howard.
  • A God Am I: Ghal-Sur claims to have become a god thanks to the power of the Bloom.
  • God-Emperor: Ghal-Sur becomes one after he is released from The Pantheon, being called the God-King, worshipped by his followers who go after him in hopes of being given eternal life thanks to his blood magic and the use of the bloom.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: A response some people can have to the Bloom's Awful Truth, and clearly one of the things the Guardian is guarding against. [[spoiler: Ghal-Sur is already a backstabbing coward during the sequence with Lord Pyrantin, but decades in contact with the Bloom by the time of Phae-Agura and Uruq have clearly given him delusions of godhood. It's ambiguous whether this applies to Uruq, who is likewise already a scheming, self-interested bastard before Ghal-Sur's ritual
  • Gorn: As a throwback to '80s adult animation like Heavy Metal, the movie has plenty of violent kills and doesn't shy away from showing the gory results of the battles.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be:
    • The Inquisitor gets the power to unleash waves of power and uses it to cut a revolt in half like this.
    • Ghal-Sur is killed by being bisected and having the witch tear his heart out.
  • Healing Hands: Tzod is able to use the power of the bloom to heal Ghal-Sur when they are jailed together, with a single petal being able to immediately close an axe wound in his back.
  • Ignorance Is Bliss: The Guardian and all his predecessors believed so. Touching the original blooms caused them to realize that their existence is empty and meaningless, a realization so horrific they immediately dedicate their lives to protect humanity from getting the blooms and learn that.
  • In the Back: Ghal-Sur backstabs the witch Tzod while she is drowning Lord Pyrantin to steal the flowers she wear and take their power.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: Because the movie takes the long view of history, the all-powerful despot of one segment may be a forgotten footnote by the next.
  • Man on Fire: How Ghal-Sur kills The Inquisitor. He sets him on fire and, in trying to run, he falls from a rooftop, but is completely burned down before hitting the ground.
  • Miss Fanservice: An odd example with Tzod. She's naked for the entire film, but not animated in an especially titillating way, and doesn't have the 36-24-36 measurements you might expect in this kind of movie - contrast with Fire & Ice, where Princess Teegra's every motion is rendered in rapturously horny detail. There's a lot of nudity throughout the film, but all of it is presented in a stark, uncomfortable way.
  • Necromancer: A Scholar calls the Inquisitor one before getting sliced in half. Tzod actually uses this power at the end to get the upper hand over Ghal-Sur.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: As a reward for healing Ghal-Sur and breaking free just before they were both set to be executed, Tzod gets stabbed and left to die by her supposed benefactor.
  • Noodle Incident: The Night of a Thousand Suns. Tzod tells the Guardian that this is the name that the scholars have come up with the event that drove him up the mountain, and the Guardian implies that it had something to do with a decades-long war between two kings. Inquisitor Uruq lists the Night of a Thousand Suns as one of the many cataclysms that the Pantheon has survived. Not much else is revealed about this event. This, of course, ties in with the movie's themes of the long view of history: an earth-shaking cataclysm will become a historical footnote in a few generations.
  • Not Quite Flight: The bird trio's wingsuits allow them to glide long distances.
  • Physical God: After performing the rites necessary to unlock the true powers of the bloom, Ghal-Sur is capable of altering reality on a whim and is all but completely invincible.
  • Retraux: Although it was animated with modern computer technology, the visual style very much recreates the uncanny feeling of 1980s-era rotoscoping.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The Inquisitor betrays The Pantheon to side with Ghal-Sur, who kills him soon after getting what he needs.
  • Ribcage Ridge: The whole framing story takes place in and around the skeleton of a gigantic demigod on an icy mountaintop.
  • Steampunk: Towards the end, sufficient time has passed that the visuals start approaching this, as one army is shown to have a zeppelin (possibly powered by magitek) as a war airship.
  • Spanner in the Works: The bird trio successfully destroy Ghar-Sul's entire base of operations, leading to Tzod's resurrection and Ghar-Sul's defeat.
  • Straw Nihilist: The God-Emperor, who believes that his ability to see the futility of human existence sets him above everyone else. From the first story, however, we already know that he's not quite the stone-cold badass he wants to be seen as.
  • Suicide Attack: The bird trio determine that since they're likely to be killed defending their city anyway, they might as well try killing the God-Emperor while they can.
  • Too Important to Walk: Once Ghar-Sul sets himself up as a God-King, one of the first things we see is him being carried around on a massive throne by a whole team of naked slaves at the head of his army.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The angry mob of peasants attacking the Pantheon during Phae-Agura's story. She tries to talk them down, hoping to find a way to use the Pantheon's knowledge for universal benefit, but her boss would prefer bloodshed.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom:
    • The Guardian, once finding the bloom for the first time, blew one of them, spreading their sport all over their world, causing the bloom that Tzod uses to grow, and by extension, cause all the events of the movie.
    • Tzod asking Ghar-Sul an Armor-Piercing Question is likely what inspired him to seize power by killing her and taking the Bloom.
    • As far as Phae-Agura knew, she was just hunting down some rare books to add to the Pantheon library. A ritual detailed in one of them is what turns Ghal-Sur from a mad oracle into the all-powerful God-King.
  • Zeppelins from Another World / Dread Zeppelin: The God-King's army contains these by the end of the film in what is otherwise a fairly standard Low Fantasy world. The airships feel fundamentally wrong, in a way that emphasizes just how strange and unfamiliar the world has become by this point in the story.