‘Symphony No. 42’ is a Crescendo of Puzzling Images

Speechless. That’s what Symphony No. 42 will undoubtedly leave you, unless you can comprehend the connection between the unlikely situations that are woven together in this animated film.

The night sky is clear and full of twinkling stars. A fox sketches a celestial drawing, except instead of the sun at the center, it is the Eye of Providence, or all-seeing eye of God, blinking back at the fox. He puts the drawing up on a nearby tree and it comes to life with the planets rotating around the eye. The fox then pulls out a gun and shoots itself. And so begins Symphony No. 42.

Imagine an orchestra tuning up. They and the audience are waiting for the conductor to arrive. Meanwhile, each instrument needs adjustment, each one currently out of synch with the other. There’s no harmony in this moment, just a collection of noises. This is what Symphony No. 42 feels like. We are watching each instrument before it has found its place in the orchestra.

This ten-minute short film contains several vignettes, some less than a minute long, depicting animals and people doing things that are mind-bending to say the least. Like a woman pouring milk into a cow, only to have it trickle out of its udders. Or a giant, three-headed dog blowing bubbles.

And there are more oddities. A penguin on a stage, singing opera. Clouds raining blood in one scene, transitioning into red flakes of food dropping into a fish tank in the next, the fish changing color as they swim. A man standing in his kitchen holding a mug that says, “Happy hippo,” as one emerges from his white-tiled floor, as if rising from underwater. Another man in the following scene sees the same hippo haunting him as a light is switched off and on. His scream is heard in the next shot emanating from a tent in the woods. He is silenced when someone pulls a cord hanging from a nearby tree, switching off the light in his tent and turning on small lights on the tree branches, which then float away like fireflies.

Symphony No. 42 presents itself much like a college film project in which a series of unrelated scenes are linked together by an object or a series of objects. It also feels somewhat psychedelic in its presentation, harkening to a scene from Yellow Submarine or something one might see on Adult Swim.

Some segments are funny, like the elephant painting the words, “HELP ME” on an easel, poking fun at the real-life viral video of an elephant that has been taught to paint. Or the monkeys typing on laptop computers, a nod to the quote about a million monkeys on a million typewriters eventually writing Hamlet.

The movie ends where we left off in the beginning, only the dead fox is not there, only the gun and the drawing. A fox approaches, but is it the same fox? And this time a shot is heard in the distance. Did this fox get shot? Does the sequence start over? Is this the second movement of the symphony?

There are many questions to ask about this film. Is it telling a story, or just depicting the absurd? Only animation can present these scenarios, and in some ways assist in the exploration of the irrational nature of things. The animation is well done, and there are a few connecting elements that float past in the background that link the scenes together, which adds to the amusement.

Symphony No. 42 holds multiple awards including Best Short at the Melbourne International Film Festival, was the Official Selection at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, and was shortlisted for an Academy Award.

This is animator Réka Bucsi’s first short film, which was her graduation project from art school. She has since made a second film, Love, which was featured at Berlinale and South By Southwest.

Monica Sztybel

Monica majored in English at Muhlenberg College. After graduation she worked at CBS for two years and on the films The Stoned Age and Leprechaun 2. These days she's writing blogs, scripts and novels, as well as chatting about film production to anyone willing to listen.

Monologue Blogger Newsletter
* indicates required