Several years ago, when I was back home from college, my mom was packing up old videotapes and junk from childhood. I protested, looking through the boxes before allowing such a thing to happen. As I pored through the proposed trash, I realized that, yes, this stuff needed to go.
However, there was one thing I requested to keep: a battered VHS for The Snowman, an animated TV film from 1982 that I knew moved me as a child, but hadn’t seen in years.
Like many movies or pieces of art, I had this feeling about it — that this movie demanded my attention, and would impact me in the future whenever I had the time and space for it.
That time and space finally arrived earlier this week, toward the end of a year that sorely lacked in each.
The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs’ picture book, is simple, pure, anathema to the tempting excesses of Christmas. It’s about a boy who builds a snowman who magically comes to life Christmas Eve night. This isn’t a horror film, nor is this Olaf (an even more frightening thought) — the snowman is silent, an imaginary friend, your inner self, God, the manifestations of dreams, of longing.
Of course, the adventure, like any adventure, has an expiration date. Stupid morning, stupid adulthood has to come, and the snow too must melt.
Every day I am the boy running outside to discover his dreams have melted and changed overnight. Or worse, they’ve been forgotten. What had I built, exactly? Where had I built it? Or had I imagined the whole thing? Words are like snow, often feeble attempts to conjure a meaning and feeling that melts in your hands when you try to grasp at it. Every day I am the boy searching for the right snow, for my younger magical self who knows exactly where it can be found.
The Snowman is transcendent even without pictures or words thanks to Howard Blake’s stirring score. Blake’s music is a trip on its own, but “Walking in the Air,” gorgeously sung by 13-year-old Peter Auty is the angelic ornament atop the Christmas tree. It takes me back to a mythical time when life made sense, or rather, to a time when it didn’t have to make sense. The operatic anthem produces in me chills and tears every time I hear it, and that includes the seventeen times I listened to it on repeat while attempting to collect my feelings here.
This time around the North Pole, it was startling to see how closely The Snowman mirrors the psychedelic experience. That soaring come-up, flourishes of hallucinogenic magic filtering your vision, your soul. And just when you think it can last forever, just when you think you’ve figured something out about yourself, about the world, the sinking has already begun… forcing an emergency landing back upon the melted shores of reality. The words fading footprints…
But that’s the point. Every morning, if you’re lucky enough to glimpse it, promises the possibility of fresh snow, new friends, new adventures and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with the certainty that they all must pass. The trick is to fly together during the times we have.