10 Interpretations of the Same Animation Short
The story is in the eye of the beholder.
Posted October 7, 2014 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Recently, I posted an evocative animated short that seemed to lend itself to many readings. But I didn't realize just how open it was until five friends told me what they thought the video was all about, each providing a different perspective from my own.
I was astonished by the variety of stories inspired by a single short!
So my team and I decided to show the video to more than 130 people, and ask them to describe what they saw.
Here, we share 10 different interpretations that may reframe the way you see this short piece ...
Watch the (3-minute) animated short here (if the video does not run, just click here to view):
"There is a man who is sleeping [on a bench]. Someone throws a ball at him [again and again] while he is sleeping. He then chases the ball [through a forest] and leaves his stick [cane] behind."
- age 5 years, kindergartner (with help from his mom)
"As the old man chases the red ball, he reflects on his experiences throughout life. At the end, he gives the red ball to the child, suggesting the importance of passing things on to the next generation."
-15, high school student
"In this short film, I saw a ball leading a man back through the years of his life. What I believe the true meaning of the video to be, is the trade-off in age. As one person grows older and dies, another is born. This makes an ongoing cycle of something resembling reincarnation…"
- 15, high school student
"The red ball is magical and it can grant wishes. The old man's wish is to be young again. When the ball rolls to the child, he wishes he had a father who would play with him. And the old man becomes his father and they both find what they were looking for."
- 29, children's librarian
"I think it’s trying to depict in retrospect the aging process by showing the different stages. I think the end shows how we are somehow always ‘chasing’ youth/youthfulness. And it also shows that even though we age, our spirit is still young; that doesn’t change. Our bodies age but our spirit remains the same."
- 37, legal secretary
"The old man on the bench was at first annoyed by the ball, but it serves as a catalyst to draw him toward something. In doing so, it induces the old man to remember and to have an internal memory of his youth. The ball was death gently guiding him to this end, and the little kid an angel, inviting him to come to heaven…"
- 51, trust attorney
"The old man was sitting on a park bench, falling asleep... He dreams about life from beginning to the end. In the dream, the child throws his life back to him."
- 52, lawyer
"I think before the video began, the old man passed away. The video records his passage into the next life, with the red ball leading him through his memories of his whole life. In the end, the child under the apple tree is his son that he lost and it makes him feel his age again and turn around in fear. But then the child engages with him to show that he is there to show him the way, and the man drops his cane and becomes the age he was when he lost his son. He runs to be with him."
- 60, interpreter
"An old depressed man sits on a bench and a red ball (a spirit who is guiding him to his death) comes up to him. After rebuffing the ball/spirit twice, he follows it and the ball takes him on a journey back through his life as he gets younger and younger. Then he arrives at a way station where he meets himself as a 3-year-old."
"The child throws the ball/spirit back to him with a clear choice: He can choose what age he will be in the afterlife forever. He chooses himself as a young man and enters the spirit world."
- 68, retired college professor
"It starts in Autumn, with a man sitting in a park. The red ball is something like a deep regret (or what he’s been angry about for years) coming to taunt him. As he chases it, he goes into a period of Winter and he is sobbing. But then Spring comes. At the end, he sees himself as a child standing under an apple tree (a symbol of newness). As the red ball is tossed now it is light (no heavy burden anymore).
"The man may be old, but he goes into the Summer of his life."
- 69, travel writer
As a professor who teaches courses on both Creativity and Human Development, it was fascinating to see the narratives progress from the concrete and literal descriptions by children to the increasingly philosophical and metaphorical interpretations by adults.
Children's reports tended to be rather fragmented, concrete descriptions of the physical actions and events. Adolescents touched on broad themes (the cycle of life, reincarnation, legacy) but lightly, without much elaboration.
The college-age group and mid-20s produced narratives similar to the ones revealed in this conversation with one of the creators of the animated short (who is also in his 20s) — that of rediscovering one's lost youth or inner child through play. The appearance of the child in the end was often puzzling to them or not yet integrated into the story, sometimes producing a break or fissure in the narrative.
From there, the reflections became more philosophical and increasingly more elaborate, with the child's role more tightly woven into the storyline.
The 130+ stories were collected by students in the undergraduate seminar I teach on creativity. Of course, this was only an informal class project and not a controlled or expansive study from which we can draw any conclusions, but it was fascinating to see some hints of emerging trends with age.
Not blank slates
The diverse responses to this animation short also remind us that audiences are not blank slates. In a previous post linked here, I discussed how many aspects of films are open to interpretation — inviting us to project our own feelings, beliefs, conflicts, and personal associations.
The broad outlines of the drama are presented in moving images, but the nuances may be created in the light and shadows of the unconscious mind, allowing us to mold films we see in personally significant ways.
To read the original post — which includes a conversation between John Baxa, one of the creators of "Ball," and the author of this post — please click here.
Animation short by John Baxa, Phillip Chung, Hongsa Chen, and Victor Qin: Carnegie Mellon University.
Music: "Words" by Goldmund
Special thanks to my First-Year Creativity Seminar at Kalamazoo College for collecting stories: Julia Bartlett, Kyra Blum, Seth Dexter, Maggie Doele, Angelia Evangelista, Shannon Irvine, Kelsey Matthews, Sam Meyers, Sean Peterkin, Yajaera Ramirez, Anna Roodbergen, Kathleen Russell, Sundas Sohail, Matera Stuart, Quentin Sweeney, Mitch Wynkoop.