From Babel to the Moon: La Luna
July 4, 2012 at 11:02 am, by Jonah Rank
WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS.
REALITY CHECK: THIS FILM IS ONLY 7 MINUTES LONG. I CAN’T SPOIL ANYTHING MORE THAN 7 MINUTES IN ADVANCE.
In the short film preceding Pixar’s latest major motion picture, we find three nameless* males out on a boat in the wide ocean. An elderly man, a middle-aged man, and a young boy sit, anchored beneath a sky about as monotonous as the deep blue sea beneath them.
Often in Pixar’s short films, there are no words—or at least, no intelligible words. To understand what these characters are saying, we have to listen to the tone of their voices. It’s the only part of their speech that bears any meaning.
Aboard La Luna (the name of their boat), the old man and the middle-aged man express their subtly different ways of living in the universe: one demonstrates how the boy should wear his hat, and the other flips around the cap; one wipes his mustache, and the other picks his earwax.
Some time passes in silence aboard the boat as the trio sits and waits. Above La Luna, a moon of shining gold rises. The moon and the boat stand as opposites: like day and night. But oddly enough, the moon is the bright day, and the dulled boat is the night.
The boy, amazed at the moon, tries to bridge the gap. The humans unleash an inexplicably tall ladder hiding within the tiny watercraft, and the ladder nearly reaches the moon.
As the boy climbs the ladder, you might recall several Biblical stories. The Tower of Babel flashed into my head. “Let’s build,” say the unnamed men of Earth, “a tower with its head in the skies” (Genesis 11:4). Those anonymous Earth people live, like the passengers of La Luna, on “an Earth of one language and of unified words” (Genesis 11:1). La Luna offers us an interpretation of this singular speech. It is not that the people had a shared language. Their language was composed of one string of incomprehensible words.
The boy continues to climb, and gravity eventually draws him and his elders towards the moon. This moon is made of stars. And you can move them around.
La Luna, aside from being the name of the boat, is “The Moon” in several European languages. But again, it doesn’t matter what language they’re speaking because once all three sailors make it to the moon, the boy’s elders begin to sweep the stars and–not long after–they bicker in utterly pointless gibberish. How should they sweep the stars?
The boy watches the incoherent argument from afar, and he witnesses the dangers of life in the heavenly abode of the moon. Stars of all sizes come crashing down on the moon, constantly threatening the aesthetic of the moon (let alone the people standing upon it). Whatever disagreements these men have could not possibly be as important as the work that must go in to taking care of the moon.
The babble behind the Babel of La Luna has reached a breaking point, and an enormous star lands on the moon–threatening the work of these men to become futile, just as the celestial beings plotted against the Tower of Babel long ago (Genesis 11:7).
With no words, the boy teaches the lesson he has learned, and the three humans work together to sweep the stars of the moon, forming a glimmering crescent of stars in the sky.
And they will only see the fruit of their labors from afar.
The work they have performed is indeed God’s work. In the first major prayer of Arvit, Judaism’s evening service, the following words are read:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’, אֶ-לֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם…וּמְסַדֵּר אֶת הַכּוֹכָבִים בְּמִשְׁמְרוֹתֵיהֶם בָּרָקִֽיעַ כִּרְצוֹנוֹ.
Praised are You, Lord our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who… arranges the stars in their positional shapes along the sky, according to God’s will.
While some blessings reflect qualities of God to which we can aspire (compassion, good listening, etc.), this blessing praises the work of an existence with control far greater than anything we can understand—and perhaps only children could imagine such fantastic power.
The world is not ours alone, and neither are the stars and the moon. We must work in partnership with the forces greater than us.
We can try and change our universe, and the work looks messy while we’re at it. But, once you take a step back, that’s when you can really see the beauty of it all.
*I stand corrected. IMDb tells me that the boy’s name is Bambino. I don’t know how one could have deciphered that from the film though.