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Balloons and stuff

Posted by Wesley Morris  October 16, 2009 10:10 AM

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Without entering too far in the fray over what anyone was thinking regarding that flying-saucer balloon and the boy who was, then wasn't (ever), in its basket, a few things struck me. I watched it all unfold on one of the monitors at my gym. As has been noted by all the coverage of the coverage, every news outlet had something, even MSNBC's "The Ed Show," whose host interrupted his rant on President Obama's not doing enough to get health care passed to talk to a woman who knew the boy from their time together on TV's "Wife Swap" (although that interview might have been Wolf Blitzer''s). In any case, we feel due for a Baby Jessica incident. We got, instead, farce worthy of Alexander Payne.

The looping footage of the runaway balloon (it looked something from a 1950s science-fiction film) tapped into our obsession with a particular method of flight. (I'm just ruminating I guess, since really what everybody wanted to know was where the boy actaully was). But visually, the images of the incident reminded me of, among other things, the opening sequence from “Everlasting Love,” with Daniel Craig and Rhys Ifans, which begins with a hot-air balloon accident that winds up have nothing specifically to do with the same-sex stalker movie that follows. balloon_floats.jpg“Up,” too, sprang to mind, with its motley million of balloons carrying aloft a geezer and a scout. The movie, of course, has a happy ending (anticlimactically enough, so did yesterday’s incident). The scout in “Up” finds himself airborne by happenstance. But he takes to the adventure nonetheless. You sense that this is fantasy the little boy wanted to experience for himself: a trip in a balloon that might have taken him to a distant land of talking dogs and mothering birds. His name, of all things, is Falcon. But that Falcon turned out not to be in the basket but hiding, (allegedly) in the Heene family nest suggests a kind of fear of punishment for flight that is the antithesis of what movies about boys and balloons are about. What is the opposite of the Icarus myth?

The balloon lends itself to cinema. The Heene’s actually lent itself to an abduction show on the Fear Network (we do now have a Fear Network, don’t we?) That seems apt, as well. The national fear was that Falcon, in a sense, was being abducted. But there is also a degree of foolishness about the balloon. It can just seem reckless. Beautiful, too. Its contents are also an apt metaphor for what all the coverage produced: helium and hot air.

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Ty Burr is a film critic with The Boston Globe.

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