Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Point! (1971): The point is not the point unless it is the point

The Point! (1971)
dir: Fred Wolf

""I was on acid and I looked at the trees and I realized that they all came to points, and the little branches came to points, and the houses came to point. I thought, 'Oh! Everything has a point, and if it doesn't, then there's a point to it.'" - Harry Nillsson, Bright Lights Film Journal


Confession: I grew up on this movie. I remember renting it several times on VHS, and would love it on television. Watching it as an adult, this may have been the best piece of film that I loved as a child. I'm also surprised that my parents didn't wonder about me since I kept re-watching this movie.

The Point! is the most acid-tinged cartoon this side of Yellow Submarine, which I did not grow up on. It is both crude and hand-drawn, like a children's book. It is dark but nonsensical. This is Alice in Wonderland but for the post-60s generation. A meditation on race, circles, sense and nonsense, The Point! challenges the world that everybody takes for granted.

The Point! tells the story of Oblio and his dog, Arrow. They live in the Pointed Village, a world of points, where everything is pointed and sharp, including people's heads. Except, he has a round head, and has to wear a pointy hat to disguise his point. While the town's citizens are accepting of Oblio, the Wizard, who is the King's right hand man, doesn't appreciate Oblio's non-conformity. When Oblio bests the Wizard's son at a game of ring toss, he is banished to live in the Pointless Forest, where he encounters a series of strange people who teach him that everything has a point. 

As with Alice in Wonderland, the encounters pretty much define the point of The Point! My personal favorite was always the circular and far too short segment Think About Your Troubles, which details the life cycle of people's problems, and their tear drops. In a metaphorical sense, it details how everybody's depression creates a ripple and will mostly come back to haunt you, going from a teardrop to the ocean, which gets recycled by fishes and whales to come back through the faucet back to your teapot. This is the first stop on Oblio's journey.

Along the way, Oblio and Arrow encounter the Pointed Man, a man who points at everything all at once, which, it is argued, points at nothing at all. They encounter the Rock Man, who speaks and talks like a bluesy beat, who tells them that they see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. They encounter three very large joyous bouncing fat women. They stumble across a businesstree who grows leaves for money. They're picked up by a giant bird, who shows them the forest from a different perspective: the treetops. 

Of course, along the way, he discovers that everything has a point, except the pointed man who says that everything is pointless. The Point! becomes its own ironic paradox of life. It makes a strange case for everything matters except those that say nothing matters. It's certainly anti-nihilistic. Nilsson's point is that nothing doesn't matter.

In turn, it also discourages passive acceptance of everything having a point. The Pointed Man reprimands Oblio for thinking every chance he gets. You're not supposed to think. You're supposed to accept. Which would give the Pointed Man his reason to exist, and thinking about him causes him to vanish. 

The thing that The Point! is closest to is Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, another of my childhood favorites. Incidentally, in 1970, The Phantom Tollbooth had a toothless film adaptation which retains none of the psychedelic absurdity of the original book. Both The Phantom Tollbooth and The Point! discourage the laziness of childhood, and encourage active thinking and participating in life.

Nothing exists in a vacuum, of course. The anarchic joy of The Phantom Tollbooth foretells the joy of the 1960s hippy movement as well as the anti-authoritarian, questioning, nature of society and children. In 1970, as the movement had started receding, Harry Nilsson's The Point! indulges in the joy of the psychedelic movement, but also is telling the sadness as it comes crashing down around everything. Not only does Think About Your Troubles sing about the circular nature of sadness, but Life Line also is about drowning in depression and needing to be rescued.

What The Point! brings is a certain wisdom as well. A high and a wistful post-comedown that is all about clinging to the reality one wants to cling to, even though it is ripped out from under you. These are far too advanced concepts for most kids, who will cling to the absurdity and the anti-authoritarianism of The Point! wondering why things had happened. The Pointed Man even admonishes Oblio for thinking "Why?" But, The Pointed Man is not who you're supposed to be idolizing. Whether you're idolizing the rock man, the dancers, or the businessman, at least they have a point. 

The Point! is a strange movie that still brings enjoyment to those who are completely in tune with its wavelength. There are few movies that have been for children that have so effortlessly captured the strangeness of figuring out the world without jumping through hoops to get there. While it's not flawless, as it can be somewhat on the nose, and sometimes blunt as a sledgehammer, The Point! is an enjoyable rewarding experience.

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