Listen to Rudolph: A New Year Is Both a Comfort and a Fiction
Rudolph meets various silly supporting characters along the way, and the most beautiful part of the film for me has always been his excursion to the archipelago of the past few years, with each year being personified based on prominent events and settings and getting its own island where time is blocked. (I now wonder if the plot was removed from the writer’s table on Doctor Who.)
One million BC Is a caveman who lives among dinosaurs, and in 1776 it looks like Benjamin Franklin. We can’t see every island, but we learn that the people of the island in 1492 were too busy discovering things to help and that 1965 was too noisy. Rudolph also mentions the island in 1893, the year of a major depression, but they have never heard of Happy.
It’s a cute joke that I missed as a kid, but that got my attention now: you can imagine 2020 that was passed over by Rudolph because its residents have never heard of Happy either. But the premise reveals its own holes. For one, the personifications are aimed at America and white. America was born in 1776, but it was also the year of a deadly hurricane in Guadeloupe and a war against Cherokee tribes. And the island descriptions are all intentionally short-sighted: 1893 was the year of a Depression, but it was also the year of the Belgian workers strike and the Chicago World’s Fair. 1965, when civil rights protests and Beatlemania were in full swing, it was definitely a year of noise but also of silence: the death of Winston Churchill, the murder of Malcolm X, the deaths of civilians and soldiers in Vietnam. And then the calm face of Mars, which Mariner 4 photographed for the first time and hung like a red ornament and floated in the silence of space.
But this is how we think about time: one adjective at a time, the best or the worst within the narrow confines of our own perspective. Otherwise we would go crazy and explain every second of every day, every victory and every little thing.
“Rudolph’s Brilliant New Year”, however, is a reminder that it is comforting to think that our worst years include someone else’s best, that our best years are tempered with the worst, and that there is always a bigger narrative to go over the new goes out a calendar page.