Friday, January 14, 2011


Childhood is a beautiful thing.  It is full of excitement and wonderment and an innocence that is a shame to see slip through a child’s plush little fingers.  When I look at my eldest daughter, now three, and her lavish lust for life I can’t help but wish it would linger longer than I know it will.  That seems harsh, I’m sure, since adolescence does take its time (she’s only three for Christ sake) but I’m only twenty-five and my life is already a bowl of exasperation.  Gone are the days of spinning in circles and curious stares at nature and endless storytelling huddled in the closet of my room surrounded by countless stuffed animals.  Gone are the days of reckless imagination and boundless curiosity. 

I’m an adult.


I’m often fascinated by theatrical depictions of childhood, good and bad, since there are so many layers to the mind of a child and it is impressive to me when a film understands how to capture and cultivate those layers.  In recent years I have been moved, quite emphatically, by a few films; most notably ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ (for so many reasons it’s pathetic).  The other night I happened to catch a film barely over thirty minutes in length that spoke so vividly about the world of a child with barely a whisper (the dialog in the film is so limited that it was classified a silent film by TCM).  That film was ‘The Red Balloon’ or ‘Le Ballon Rouge’.  This thirty-four minute short film by Albert Lamorisse starring none other than his very own son Pascal is a beautifully intoxicating film that navigates the rich innocence (birth and death) of a child with stark significance.

The film simply tells the story of a boy who finds a balloon and spends the day protecting it.  It follows him around and listens to him.  The other boys in his neighborhood want to destroy the balloon and the adults in his life want to discipline him for having it.

Pascal loves the balloon.

As I mentioned earlier, childhood is so layered.  There is no real cut and dry answer as to the meaning of this film, for life is rarely that black and white.  Some have noted they felt the film spoke of escape from the loneliness of childhood; mean parents and bullies and the like.  I understand that viewpoint completely. 

For me though, ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ is more about growing up and leaving childhood behind.  That balloon is a representation of all the dreams and aspirations we have in our youth.  When you are young everything seems possible.  You can be anything you want to be, and most parents try to enforce that idea in the minds of their children.  How often though, does life work out that way?  Having those ideals is a beautiful thing, but a certain air of realism comes into play as we age, and before we know it we have completely disregarded the life we once dreamed we’d live and settle into the more realistic, the more attainable; the more ‘normal’ life.  Look at the way the slightly older children regard the balloon.  The pawn over it, chase after it, seek to destroy it.  The adults in Pascal’s life look down on the balloon and it’s presence as a burden, going as far as to discipline Pascal for entertaining the idea of ‘the balloon’.  It is almost as if the people around him will stop at nothing to destroy his dreams.

And then the dream is killed.

‘Le Ballon Rouge’ offers us a glimmer of hope though, as we watch Pascal find new dreams shortly after his balloon is deflated.  In a flurry, balloons from all over rush to the aid of their dying friend and then surround young Pascal, adopting him as their own and causing him to soar to new heights (quite literally).

The beauty of ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ comes in the resolve that dreams don’t HAVE to die.  As I mentioned, all too often we give up on those dreams, shucking them aside to live a more acceptable life.  That isn’t to say that adulthood is a series of painful moments and a swell of regret.  In fact, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything (despite the frustrated responsibilities that dull my enjoyment of everyday).  Still, as parents we feel obligated to put our children’s futures on a pedestal, desiring them to become something more than we ever could dream of becoming.  In a way, I feel that this is what Lamorisse was doing with this film.  Youth is beautiful.  It is exciting and charming and new and daring.  Youth is inspiring, and Lamorisse didn’t want Pascal to lose that part of himself.  ‘Le Ballon Rouge’ broaches the realities of youthful dreams with the hopefulness that those dreams don’t have to leave us entirely as we get older.  It's a mindset; an approach we take to life. 

Maybe we need to broaden our understanding of what a 'dream' really is.

We may let go of our balloon, or we may have it shot down and trampled by those around us…but if that happens we need to find ourselves another balloon.

I found two, my daughters, and they are the most beautiful balloons I’ve ever seen.

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