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Short Film: Neighbours

23 January, 2009
Recently, the National Film Board of Canada made their collection available for free online for people in any country (take that, Hulu!). One of the many short films they have on their website is the 1952 Oscar-winning short Neighbours. Before I go any further, I must thank Weathereye for introducing me to the website and recommending this particular film.

You can watch the film at this link or see it embedded below.

(Warning: This film contains some violent images and may be NSFW.)

SPOILERS FOR THE FILM FOLLOW. PLEASE WATCH THE FILM FIRST BEFORE READING.

Before get into actually reviewing the film, let’s talk about when it was made – the year was 1952, and it was a very tense period for the world. Not a decade had passed since the Second World War had ended, and tensions were mounting between the capitalist and communist blocs. Just over three years ago, the Soviet Union and the United States had come head to head during the Berlin Blockade. The US, under the guise of the UN, was now fighting a bloody war in Korea. Although the threat of fascism had ended, it looked like the allies with different ideologies were turning on themselves.

When the film begins, it immediately using techniques of animation (stop-motion and otherwise), although the two characters are played by real people. There is no dialogue, but the hypnotic music more than makes up for it. The two men sit outside their houses, sharing a lighter and reading the paper. But as a small but beautiful flower pops up right between their homes, they turn violent and destructive.

The second part of the film is astonishing, considering the history that has taken place since 1952 – the two men continue to destroy each other until the flower itself is ruined, and their women and children are killed, their houses destroyed.

Neighbours could be taken as a metaphor for the Cold War, or just war in general. Indeed, it seems that McLaren predicted the vicious outcome of the war, what with the Soviet Union no longer existing and the US in serious debt and not to mention millions dead on either side and millions more in-between, but in fact McLaren is referring back to the wars that have ended already, for they all result in generally the same way, do they not?

The cinematic techniques used by McLaren are something to behold. Using methods usually reserved for puppetry and animation, he demotes both the men to the status of puppets, hence making it easier for us to identify them later on as nations of peoples rather than just two men. The music gets increasingly wilder as the two men go at it, and as I mentioned earlier, the hypnotic nature of the strange (but alluring) music puts the viewer in a kind of trance.

The violence that each man rages upon the other seems to come from nowhere; an action that is ultimately contrary to what they are fighting for – the beauty and simplicity of the small flower. Even after the flower is destroyed, they continue their fight, killing the other man’s wife and child. To the viewer, this part is particularly shocking. In fact, it was censored in some places for a long time. But to me, this section of the film is the crucial part, the moral conclusion. As the two men die and their graves are covered with flowers, McLaren leaves us with one final message, and it is a message that even today, 57 years after this short was made, we should heed.

9/10

Did you like the short? Did you like it as much as I did, or did you think it was terrible? Leave a comment either way.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. weathereye permalink
    23 January, 2009 10:31 pm

    Holy crap, Kumar. I studied this film extensively in college, and the professor knew far less about it than you picked up in one day. When you’re running the planet, can I be Minister of Movies?

  2. Kumar permalink
    23 January, 2009 10:51 pm

    Thanks 🙂 … guess it comes from being a History freak.And sure, you can definitely have that job. But if Evil Emperor Sexy Time takes over before I’m able to, you can be Minister of Movies under the Minister of Education (me). 😛

  3. cohnee permalink
    24 January, 2009 10:50 am

    Nice little review and analysis there Kumar.But small correction: It was the Korean War not Vietnam War in 1952. A genuinely UN effort (Brits, Canadians, Aussies, Turks, French), though admittedly the majority of troops were from the US.

  4. Kumar permalink
    24 January, 2009 11:29 am

    Oh shit! How could I have made such a stupid mistake?! I’ve edited the post to correct it.The reason I call it a US effort is not only because the majority of troops were from the US, but it was clearly US-led, what with MacArthur being the top general on the ground. It is true that there were troops from other countries though.

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