Short Film: “Garuda” – Chasing a bird of legend

An animated short film about a young boy in India chasing after his dream.

You may have noticed the two short animated films I have posted recently. Short films interest me in the same way that short stories and flash fiction do: they are focused and concentrated to create a singular effect. Eyrie is notably reflective and subtle, while Cat Piano is boldly lyrical and dramatic. But while both of these had strong stories and character development in four and eight minutes respectively, sometimes short films—due to their clipped length—sacrifice story and character in favor of style and emotion. This is true with Garuda, which clocks in at a mere one minute, yet tells of an extraordinary journey.

For one thing, its style is exceptional. The animation bursts with color and texture, creating a logically impossible world that is striking in its fantasy. The musical touches enhance the mystical atmosphere and elegantly bring out the emotion inherent in the imagery. For another thing, I think it has elements of a true fairy story. The difficulty is in its dreamlike nature and the lack of plot, and many viewers are likely to raise a puzzled eyebrow at the ending. Yet, the more I think of it, the more I rewatch the boy’s beautiful journey, the more I think there is some substance and meaning. It’s an open story, to be sure, with no “moral” or clear message in the conventional sense. But…well, why don’t you watch it and see for yourself.

Garuda from Andres Salaff on Vimeo.

What do you think? What I see is this: the boy chases the magical bird. He chases it far, up into possibly heavenly reaches, only to turn into the bird himself and fly away. The question of course, is what does the magical bird represent? I doubt the makers had a clear answer to this in mind—they probably desire it to mean different things for different viewers. Fair enough. The boy could be chasing a dream. He could be chasing an ideal, moral or artistic, I’d wager. And the ending: is he transformed into the same kind of thing he sought, or does he discover that he really was the very thing he sought all along? One of those “discover yourself” kinds of things? I don’t know. The important point, what I take away from it, is that he attained something good and beautiful.

The title refers to a lesser divinity of Hindu mythology, the king of the birds. Garuda was known for his stringent ethics and devotion to justice. He flew over the earth fighting evil wherever he found it. One of his most notable stories involves him rescuing his own mother from an underworld guarded by evil serpents, and defeating many of the other Hindu gods who tried to stop him. What relevance this has to the short film, I don’t know. The title is likely an allusion more than an indication that the bird of the film is meant to be the actual deity.

Credits: The staff of Les Gobelins studio in Paris
Niclas Athane
Meryl Franck
Alexis Liddell
Andres Salaff
Maïlys Vallade