“The Red Balloon” Revisited

Sheana Ochoa

By Sheana Ochoa

DVD Cover

DVD Cover

As my four-year-old, Noah, and I were browsing Netflix for a kid-adult movie, I found “The Red Balloon.”  I didn’t remember the plot so well, but I did remember that it was gripping, and that it had remained in my visual memory-library all these years.As the movie was loading from Netflix, I had it in my mind that the film had ended sadly, that the boy inadvertently loseshold of the balloon, that the film ends with an unattached balloon hovering over the Parisian rooftops only to become a red intangible speck.  And that is the subjective quality of memory: it’s unreliable.  I’ve even written a poem about a child losing his balloon.  Where did that come from?  My own fear of losing something? (That’s another blog.) And if the movie did end that way, why would I want Noah to see it? To instill in him an attitude of  “if you don’t hold on to what you have, you will lose it?” But my instincts were to keep letting him watch it.  Besides the movie is a cinematic, not to mention historical, gem.

As the film began, my husband, a French speaker, asked if it was subtitled, obviously wondering: “How’s Noah going to watch a sub-titled movie?” But I knew I had seen it at a very young age and the subtitles were irrelevant.  Indeed, my memory of when I first saw “The Red Balloon” is hazy.  I remember the movie, but not the circumstances. I deduced it must have been in school.  Yes, it came back to me: sitting in a dark auditorium, not a classroom, watching this movie with my classmates.  I must have been five or six.

The story begins when a boy finds the red balloon and almost immediately loses grasp of it. Instead of rising away from him, the balloon floats behind him, following him to school, waiting for him to get out.  And it was the moment when my son realized the balloon was following the boy and not flying away that he exclaimed, “Wow.”  I felt it too.  I echoed, “Wow.” Those enchantingly innocent moments are one of the best things about being a parent.

I don’t want to give the real ending away, but it isn’t sad.  The balloon becomes just as much of a character as the boy, and a metaphor for otherness and the way we as humans respond to what’s not “normal” around us.  If you want to know why, you’ll have to watch it.  I recommend watching it with a kid.  Turns out the ending provided a better moral than the one I thought I had remembered, although I’m sure it went over Noah’s head.

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