I didn’t plan on discussing them both in one note except that both shook me in the same way during particular scenes. I’ve only felt this way once before: during March of the Penguins, a film that attempts to personify penguins, which I think is something we generally enjoy because it brings us closer to these beings that otherwise seem to live in parallel worlds. I don’t mean only penguins, but I mean all animals. The dog I live with, for instance, has never once made use of the refrigerator in all her thirteen or so years of life, nor has she ever refreshed her water dish. And it’s not that she can’t–she probably could if she tried, if she wanted to try, but she doesn’t. At least she hasn’t shown any indication of such. A parallel universe because she lives with us, but suffers in her own ways, she acts like us sometimes, but we’ll never entirely grasp what vexes her, and if she’s thirsty and her water dish runs dry, rather than go turn on the fucking hose, she’ll drink stinking filth out of the birdbath.
In March of the Penguins, I fell in love just as I was supposed to, etc. etc. until the spell was broken when a larger bird flew down and began gently attacking one of the baby penguins. Do you recall this scene? Nobody else seemed to find it strange. What happens is that the other penguins ignore the situation or run from it. Easily they could save the baby penguin, but they allow it to die. This is a film about penguins trying to ensure that their babies live. And it was at this moment that I realized that I’d been duped–they’re not people; they’re penguins; the film is a big lie. By the same token, if you grow up listening to the Beatles you probably think that the British are, you know, nice…I mean, like, nice when they’re standing in line at Tesco.
In The Red Balloon the boy and balloon do things that friends do until the end when an enormous herd of boys (whose fathers were likely Vichy proponents) kill the balloon in a rather distressing scene. What makes it more difficult is that this balloon is gorgeous–it’s big, it’s shiny, it’s red, it’s round. As it dies its skin crinkles and grows moist, and…well, you know what happens to it next (a shoe). What follows is the happy ending: every balloon in Paris comes flying immediately to the scene of the balloon’s murder, they come to the boy, he grabs their strings, and he’s carried away. What he conspicuously does not do is bring the dead balloon with him. The balloon’s best friend and all his kin ignore it entirely and fly away to god knows where without it.
In White Mane the character White Mane is the leader of a pack of wild horses, and he gets separated from them by some men who are trying to capture him. Although his job was to defend the others, none of them defend him or come after him or show any sign of love. They actually just appoint a new leader. I’m not sure how to respond to this–because it leads us back to the penguin(/British) dilemma: can personification possibly be effective when paired with such unsentimental human qualities? I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned before Napoleon’s order that all his men with plague be shot immediately as they were heading back from the Middle East. It’s difficult reconciling what we regard as human with what is truly natural.
So I’m led to what I feel must be a step in the right direction, something further shared by both films: instinct. The main characters in both films have an instinct when it comes to the balloon, and when it comes to the horse;–a naive sort of language, sometimes imitative of adults when it comes to scolding, and otherwise uninhibitedly selfish. But they know what to do, to gain control of the horse, or to accept a city’s population of balloon’s carrying oneself away. The boys who attack the balloon, and the men who set the marsh on fire in an attempt to prove to White Mane that men always win, neither of them are open to this dialogue with nature–they’re given opportunities merely by witnessing the presence of the Others, but they remain fixed in their own
according the OED, Dryden is responsible for the idea about not ending sentences with prepositions. the idea is based on rules of Latin grammar that don’t take into account English’s being an entirely different language. english grammar generally allows Clarity to be its oracle (hahahahahaha, get it?), and also sexism.
claustrophobic bounds. But strangest, and perhaps most illuminating of all, is that everyone in every film, including the heroes, act robotically. Indeed, the hero-children’s way of acting is most laudable, but it’s no less mechanical than the men who endlessly chase White Mane to absurdity, or the boys who stop at nothing to capture and destroy the balloon–before disappearing the instant it dies. And does any bystander ever show a moment’s surprise? Not once. Every one is consumed by his own world, and in each the set of instincts is different, the language different, and one might not be any better than the next.
But the one we love is the one about childhood–where, as is true for all the other characters, everything is possible because cause and effect are nonexistent, because no moment shares discourse with any other–but, what’s different is that there’s something ultimately creative, beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, about the being of these heroes, about the outcomes of their stories.
Childhood, that’s just where we tell ourselves the best lies. And I suppose that’s what these films touch. But I’ll weep a little for the wrong reasons anyway.