Paperman is an animated short film by John Kahrs which won the Oscar award for that category last night. If you watched the Oscars, you might remember that this category was introduced early on by an over-done “intentionally awkward moment” by Paul Rudd & Melissa McCarthy that produced few laughs and mostly eyerolls.
That was followed by Paperman receiving the award, however. John came to stage and gave a very classy and short speech with just the right mix of general gratitude and specificity for the key players and communities that birthed his movie. He then thanked his wife, Jenny, who was shown with a tear of joy in her eye and a huge smile. It was wonderful. Of course, as classy as that was… wait till you see the film (if you haven’t yet — you should find it. One option is over at Hulu. Below you’ll find the trailer for it, which gives you a good taste)[youtube link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mM6cLnscmO8″ width=”590″ height=”315″]
We lead Paperman lives. We sort this stack into that stack. We commute. We file. We email. We even take work home, like the Paperman apparently had: stacks of bland black and white forms.
But from time to time our machine-like-lives are interrupted by something. Some spark, some life, some love that adds a little color to things–like a red mark that feels as if it is the only color in our lives at all. When it is a specific person which brings the color to life, it can feel like all the world around us is a coordinated dance to bring us as partners to the center of the floor. It’s as if a hundred paper airplanes were on a mission to drive us toward that love, pulling, pushing, putting us on a path to intersection with the perfect person. The trains meet, the doors open. There she is. There he is. And… cue the credits.
I don’t know if life really works the way it does in Paperman. Life feels more random than fateful to me. There is less true destiny in the world than in one I would design. Karma never shakes out like it should. I have noticed, however, that the young and the old believe in fate more than people like me. When we are young we feel swept up in events, like so many paper airplanes in the wind. The very young “trust in Providence” more than I do–and as Augustine advised us to 1700 years ago.
The old believe in fate more than I do as well. They look back on their long lives and see a script with more intentional plot than accidental tourism. As their family and friends die off, and perhaps even the one they love, they say, with Shakespeare, that “there is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.”
But I’m a middle aged man. I am not so swept up by events. I am in control. I am a believer in free will–of self-determination. I have never been forced into a subway train by paper airplanes. I am a partial believer in fate, providence, and destiny. Like all middle-aged men, I like to quote Chesterton instead, saying: “I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” Fate becomes, in my Chestertonian mind, a negative thing: the grinding wheel of history that will crush you if you do not get out of the way, if you do not take fate by the horns and wrestle it into submission. In my version the persistence of the Paperman is the virtue to claim: the endless attempts to reach out–the bold action of walking away from a job on a whim to chase the dream.
John Kahrs, however, gives me a Paperman that needs a little help along the way, a little magic in the moment. Horace once said “Perhaps Providence by some happy change will restore those things to their proper places.” Yes, but in the meantime, let us act on what we know already, I would say. One must throw the airplanes out the window first, and then later on they come back to lead you to fate.
At one point in the film, the bouncing paper airplanes remind me of the mops in Fantasia–dancing with a will of their own, to a music unheard. Perhaps Fantasia is the Chesterton-Drury version of fate. The enchanted mops are out of control–and only by unenchanting them does order, peace, and perfection return. In the Kahrs Paperman, however, the enchantment is perfection–they paper airplanes likewise have a will of their own, but it is fate you can have faith in, perfect providence. Perhaps my Fantasia way of looking at things should learn something from the Paperman.
I do long for the trust in destiny the young inherently show, the trust of fate the old submit to. I want to daily trust in Providence. I cannot but start a contented smile when watching John Kahrs’ little picture poem on love and the fates. Perhaps you look at my life and see paper airplanes stuck all over me, pushing and pulling me into the person I’ve become. Perhaps I am the Paperman.