A FILM COMMENTARY ON THE 2014 OSCAR BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT, “HELIUM”
By Mountain Shadow Director, John Bennison
The old moon laughed and sang a song,
As they rocked in the wooden shoe,
And the wind that sped them all night long
Ruffled the waves of dew.
The little stars were the herring fish
That lived in that beautiful sea —
"Now cast your nets wherever you wish —
Never a’feared are we";
So cried the stars to the fishermen three:
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod.
Eugene Field, 1889
Before the time we learned how to expand the known world by enlightened scientific methodologies -- including the wonders of modern medical wizardry -- certain truths were not bound by the requirements of factual verification. The Ancients instead relied on the kind of storytelling that found far less distinction between the known world and the inexplicable mysteries left only to the imagination.
Nowadays such tales are often relegated to the realm of children’s stories; the subtleties of which are regrettably more often than not wasted on the young. Now, for everyone, there’s Helium.
Director Anders Walter’s film tells a simple story of a brief, but faithful friendship between a dying boy named Alfred, and a bumbling, caring hospital janitor, Enzo. It is a universal story about life and death, and the brief window we call “in the mean-time;” when we can share whatever most matters to us, and allow ourselves the gift of wherever the human imagination might transport us.
In 1889, the American writer and poet Eugene Field wrote the well-known children’s poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod. Filled with fantasy, it’s a bedtime story about three children who set sail in the sky in a wooden shoe to fish for stars. Originally entitled Dutch Lullaby, the poem was later set to music, and sung by various recording artists. But in the end, the poem is simply an allegory, where Wynken and Blynken are the child’s two drowsy eyes, Nod is their sleepy head, and the wooden shoe their trundle bed.
So too, on one level, one might relegate Walter’s film to the realm of allegory; where Helium is just another name for heaven, and heaven is nothing more than a hoped-for reflection of what we’ve only been able to verifiably see and know. But to simply make life out to be nothing more than an allegorical reflection of what is unknown, simply for the sake of reassuring a dying boy, is something the troubled Enzo comes to realize is a lie.
If Helium is meant to convey something more than just another allegorical tale, it may be the suggestion of a fourth (or fifth. or limitless) unknown dimension; beyond the pleasantries of familiarity some may simply prefer to believe awaits us all “up there” and leave it at that.
But Helium also offers the stark reminder that -- Red dog or not – a day will come to bid us each farewell.
Perhaps in the end, Helium is just a lovely lullaby. And as I imagine it, the lullaby goes a little like this:
The night fog
lies heavy over the city,
so thick you can only imagine
what lies beyond.
And on any given night
from a third floor window
a dog named Red might beckon
a mighty floating airship.
“All aboard” to another place,
lighter than air,
And an old tree cabin
we might once again
for the first time