Wednesday, 16 December 2009

The magic and the mystery of the Red Balloon!

I was leading a training day with a group of curates yesterday exploring links between film and theology. It was a good day and the folk engaged well with the subject. In one of the sessions we were looking at the use of metaphor and seeing how films deployed this device. In the session we watched The Red Balloon - a celebrated film from 1956. It's the only short film (34 minutes) to have won an oscar. The film has very little dialogue as the visual images tell the story.

The film is set against the monochromatic dullness of post-war Paris. An eight year old boy finds a bright red balloon tethered to a lamp-post on his way to school one morning and he unties it. It is as though the balloon becomes his best friend and they go everywhere together. This causes difficulties at school and at home but both are eventually overcome. It is clear that the balloon befriends the boy and is very playful in the way in which they interact.

The balloon becomes an object of envy for the other boys in his neighbourhood and eventually they capture it. They attack the balloon with stones and catapults and eventaully it springs a leak and falls limp and shrivelled to the ground where one of the boys stamps on what's left and it pops.

The balloons 'owner' is understandably downcast. Shots from all over Paris then show balloons escaping from thier confinement and travelling for a rendez-vous with the boy. He gathers the strings from all of these balloons and they carry him up and away with the city spread out below him. End of film.

At the end of the film, reactions ranged from tears to complete boredom - although most did appreciate the opportunity to see it asnd for some it enabled them to reconnect to a former life! We discussed the metaphors that the story could be representing with lots of good ideas being offered. When I said that some have seen this a s a 'Christ movie' (the balloon could be seen as Jesus) there was widespread support for this view and the discussion went to some interesting places.

I would recommend this film. You can simply watch it and enjoy the story or you can begin digging deeper. I'll give it 7/10.


Anonymous said...

i dont understand the movie at allll.

Duncan Strathie said...

It is possible to watch this as simply a documentary of life in post-war Paris through the eyes of a young boy but the playfulness of the balloon suggests there is more to this story.

Rather than a literal meaning, I think it's more helpful to view the balloon and its relationship with the boy as a metaphor. I'm not certain there is a single interpretation intended as when I use this in a teaching context, viewers offer a variety of interpretations.

Some of the more often cited interpretations include seeing the balloon as a type of Christ figure or the Holy Spirit. I think both are possible. Very few people who watch this are left unmoved. It almost always evokes a strong reaction and often tears. It is able to engender an empathetic response in some people.

What emotions were sparked in you by way of response? How did you feel about the boy and about the balloon? Did your feelings change at any point(s) in the film? As you've reflected on the film since you wrote the comment, have you gained any new insights?

Keep working at it - I hope you will be rewarded.

Nutasha Neel said...

The balloon could mean hope, it also could mean love. That once you find it, try your best not to loose it. That the world will try to take your love or hope away, but if you love something truly or have a strong faith, no one can take it away from you. It could also mean happiness. Actually i am confused about the particular meaning....

Duncan Strathie said...

Nutasha - great reflection and I agree that all you see is a possible interpretation.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I believe the balloon is death. The boy was taken away, finally.

Duncan Strathie said...

That's a possibility. Thanks for commenting Anon.

Anonymous said...

I used to watch this film at kindergarten several times when I was a little girl. It came to my mind these days and I found it on the internet. I loved it then and I love it now. A great movie.

Donald Jenny Jr said...

The Red balloon is hope in a cold world

Duncan Strathie said...

Roger that.

Rashid said...

The main lesson I got from the film is to be kind and compassionate just like the boy is to the stranded baloon.
In hard times many older people become hard hearted and tend to become selfish and introverted.
This is not the default reaction of children. Be thoughtful of others and kindness will come back to you and lift you when you are down.

Today we should support real refugees and asylum seekers and homeless people. From rashid in the u.k

Anonymous said...

I see the red balloon as sort of an innocence. Everyone has to lose theirs sooner or later. Though it's sad and changes a kid forever, life goes on. In a way, it's still with us all.

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