I’d like to start this post by saying a big thank you to Jamal Jivanjee for encouraging not only me, but also all of his blog readers, to watch this film. I’d definitely suggest that, if you have not yet done so already, you check out his blog here. Jamal recently asked me to review this film on his blog, which was a wonderful experience. I have also written a review below. I’d love for you to watch this film and share your insights below.
The Hedgehog is a French film that follows the story of eleven-year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic). She is no ordinary eleven year old either. She sees the world for what it truly is – a giant fish bowl. We are born here, we grow up here, and we fend for ourselves here and eventually we end up belly turned up in the same mundane fish bowl.
Although Paloma came from a rich family she refused to let that define who she was. She made the decision that she was going end her life on her twelfth birthday. Death was a choice for Paloma not an inevitability. She was not afraid of dying. She welcomed it. To Paloma, the choice to die meant defying the world system. It meant that her background, her experiences, her knowledge and her family would play no role in shaping who she would eventually become one day.
Paloma is fascinated with art and philosophy and as her final project she decides to document the world around her using her fathers camcorder. She makes obvious observations about those in her direct circle. Some so blatantly point out the hypocrisy in the adults around her that one can’t help but smile and laugh.
However, when Paloma begins to document the life of her superintendent Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko) and her growing relationship with the new neighbour Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) Paloma is challenged to re-think her pessimistic outlook towards the world.
I’d highly encourage that you to watch the film before you read further. The trailer can be seen here.
The world is a dark, treacherous system and whether we like it or not we are born into it. Paloma draws a strong similarity between our lives and the life of a goldfish in a bowl. Both are on show for those around to see, both have the ability to become mundane and boring, and whether you’re a human or a goldfish, you face a certain death. Paloma decides that she isn’t going to live her life in a fishbowl like everyone else; instead, she is going to take her life into her own hands and end it at the ripe age of twelve.
The world system represented in this film is also a parallel of the harsh religious system we see in so many of today’s churches. We have to act a certain way, we have to do certain works, and we have to meet certain expectations in order to even be acknowledged as a fish in the fishbowl. Interestingly, the only way out of either one of these systems is death.
The beautiful connection between Paloma and Madame Renee Michel is the fact that they both see the system for what it is. They recognize the façade that is played out in front of them daily. They also see that they don’t belong in this cookie cutter world. They are seen as “outcasts” and it is this connection that acts as the foundation for a quirky unique friendship. This is seen beautifully in the scene where Madame Michel takes the dress that she borrowed back to the drycleaner – except it had a stain on it. The lady at the drycleaner yelled at her for making a stain on the expensive dress. Paloma turns to Madame Michel and says “so, you also get into trouble for making stains.” This is such a picture of how we are so far from perfect, yet the world and religious system place these high expectations over our lives that we are set up just to fail.
The fishbowl theory is illustrated beautifully in the description Paloma gives to her father regarding differences between the game of Chess and the Japanese game of Go. Chess is a game where you fight to survive through the death of your opponent. Go, on the other hand, is an elegant and organic game and the focus is on producing life rather than killing to survive. Throughout the film we see different characters playing either one of the two games. In one scene, we see Paloma and Mr Ozu playing Go (a game that produces life) and in the very next scene we see a homeless man on the street playing Chess – the game of survival. We can fight to survive, or we can fight for life, however… according to Christ if we want to save our life, we need to lose it first. Ahh the paradoxes!!
There is an interesting scene where Paloma flips a flipbook illustrating her mother’s addiction to anti-depressant pills. I saw this as a beautiful picture of what we decide to sew into our lives that’s what we will reap. The flipbook shows a pill being planted, watered and eventually a plant full of pills growing. It’s a picture that her mother was feeding her depression by constantly consuming these pills. Christ calls us to partake of him; he is the grain of wheat that fell to the ground so that we could live. He died so that we could live. I’ll speak more about this later on…
I just love Paloma’s documentary that we see of the beginning of the relationship between Madame Michel and Mr Ozu. Madame Michel sees herself as being extremely low class and she is constantly putting herself down.
“I am a widow, I am short, ugly, and plump…I live alone with my cat, a big, lazy tom…neither he nor I make any effort to take part in the social doings of our respective species. Because I am rarely friendly – though always polite – I am not liked, but am tolerated nonetheless…”
When she said the above, I thought to myself, when I was involved in a religious relationship with Christ I saw myself as below perfect, just tolerated by Christ. However, when Mr Ozu enters her life, he treats her as an equal. He invites her into his home, he takes her out to dinner, he speaks to her like a human being – he sees her for who she really is, not how she perceives herself.
I just love how when Mr Oku invites Madame Michel out to dinner she politely declines by saying something along the lines of “I am your superintendent, not your neighbour” and Mr Oku replies, with a smile on his face, “Why can’t you have both qualities at once.” We are fallen human beings, yet Christ calls us to dine with him, as equals. WOW!
Their relationship is something extremely special, he admires her for who she is, not for what she does or says. She appreciates the fact that although Mr Oku comes from a rich family, he is different, he is normal, he also does not fit into the cookie cutter mould of the system. He abundantly gives gifts to Madame Michel expecting nothing in return. What a picture of our Christ and how he pours his life into us abundantly, yet he has no expectation for us work for his love and attention, he expects nothing in return, this is a selfless love. Mr Oku never forces himself towards Madame Michel, although it is clear that he desires to take their relationship to the next level. He makes this known by saying to Michel that “we can be friends and whatever we want” he repeats this twice. Our Lord doesn’t force himself on us. He is the perfect gentleman, longing for our love, but never forcing us into a relationship.
The morning after Mr Oku said this to Madame Michel, she wakes up in a strangely good mood. She is happy, maybe there is more to life than the mundane. She goes outside to remove the trash, and the homeless man from earlier is in the street. Madame Michel walks into the road to help move him off, and we are shocked when the dry-cleaning van hits Michel resulting in her death.
At one point in the film, Paloma feeds the goldfish one of her mothers anti-depressents. Within seconds, the fish is floating belly upwards. Paloma is planning on over-dosing on her mothers pills when she ends her life on her twelfth birthday. The death of the fish is extremely symbolic as it acts a shadow of what is to come. She flushes the fish down the toilet and forgets about him.
After Madame Michel’s death Paloma finds that her goldfish actually survived the anti-depressant. Madame Michel found the fish in her toilet and kept him in a different bowl. This is a really nice picture of the fact that a common goldfish who also seemed bored by the mundane, managed to hold onto his life and survive the inevitable.
Now for the most profound and astounding line of the entire film – this line has changed the way I feel about Christ and the way I see how he feel about me forever. This line gave me an astounding revelation of the 100% pure, raw love that Christ has for us and that we should have for him.
“What matters isn’t the fact of dying or when you die. It’s what you’re doing at that precise moment. So Renee, what where you doing at the time of your death?
…………You were ready to love”
WOW! Now think about the precise moment on the bloody cross that Christ is hanging, the moment just as he passes from life into death, what was he doing? He was ready to love. He was ready to love his PERFECT bride. He died to be with her, my pathetic use of words fails me as I try to convey this type of love that I have seen.
I also saw the fact that before we can love Christ, he commands us to lose our lives, to die. I have never thought of it in this way before:
“Lord Jesus, I am ready to love you, I am ready to love you the way that you love me, unfailing, never-ending and whole-heartedly. I am ready to die, I am willing to die, to lose everything that I “think” I hold dear for the sole purpose of loving you” These are not just words any more to me, this is a profound reality. I have never felt more ready to love to Christ, more happy to lose my life so that I can love him without hindrance or distraction.”
“We love because he first loved us” – 1 John 4:19