The Red Balloon

As I mentioned earlier, I went out of my way to read non-kids books while on vacation recently. One of the books I read was Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook.

I don't have a full review but, rather, a Twitter review: So much fun but not quite as shocking or eye-opening as Kitchen Confidential.

What I insanely loved about the book was the following passage. Ever see the movie The Red Balloon as a kid? Well, I did. Repeatedly, every time we had a substitute teacher and it traumatized me every time. I blame my astrological sign (Cancer). Bourdain sums it up:

What exactly was the message of The Red Balloon anyway? Every time our teachers didn't show up, they'd haul out the projector and show us this supposedly heartwarming and inspiring story of a little French boy and his enchanted balloon friend.

But wait a minute. The poor kid is impoverished and clearly unloved. He wears the same clothes every day. Immediately on finding his balloon, he's ostracized by society, banned from public transportation, chastised at school, even ejected from church. His parents are either dead or have abandoned him - as the hideous crone who cruelly throws his balloon out the window at first encounter is clearly too old to be his mom. The boy's schoolmates are a feral, opportunistic bunch who instinctively seek to destroy what they don't understand and can't possess. In fact, nearly every other child in the film is depicted as part of an unthinking mob, fighting viciously among themselves even as they pursue the boy and his balloon through the streets, like a pack of wolves. The boy runs away, is assaulted, separated from his only friend - then reunites with it only to watch it die slowly before his eyes.

The happy ending? Balloons from all over Paris converge. The boy gathers them together and is lifted aloft. He drifts away, dangerously suspended over the city. The end.

Where's the kid going? To an unspecified "better" place - for sure. Or to a fatal drop when the balloons empty of their helium (as we've seen them do just previously).

The message?

Life is cruel, lonely, and filled with pain and random acts of violence. Everybody hates you and seeks to destroy you. Better to opt out altogether, to leap - literally - into the void, escape by any means necessary. However uncertain or suicidal the way out.

Hilarious and so true, right? After a couple mai tais on the beach, this was the funniest and truest thing I had ever read. In case you need a reminder, there's this:

It certainly isn't the first time I've disagreed with A.O. Scott. And to completely counterbalance that unjustified lovefest, there's this:

Eat, drink, and put this on the shelf next to Love You Forever.


Anonymous said...

Okay, now I can't stand Love You Forever and I have no idea why you'd put The Red Balloon next to it. The Giving Tree belongs there, if you ask me. I watched The Red Balloon many times in PreK and K and I loved it. I cried every time. Did I know what it was supposed to mean? No, but it didn't matter. It was enchanting and effortless to relate to emotionally. Those previously mentioned books? They have messages that literally hit you over the head. And even if I didn't understand them as a child, I found them unsettling and creepy. I didn't want to understand them. The Red Balloon? I'll never tire of it. And never stop hoping for maybe a green balloon to start following me around one day.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and by the way, I LOVE The Revenge of the Red Balloon. It's brilliant! (As an adult I've developed a very healthy sense of black humor. Thank goodness!)