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Film / Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man

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Cirque du Soleil: Journey of Man is an IMAX 3D short (39 minutes) from 2000.

The story is an allegory: an Everyman narrating (via the voice of Sir Ian McKellen; the character is played onscreen by a succession of Cirque performers) the journey he made through the stages of life, represented by an assortment of acts from Cirque's live shows filmed in mostly Real Life locations. As a child, he is guided into the wild, wide world by two "Flounes" who serve as his instincts; as he becomes an adolescent, he leaves them in the dust to explore the world and seek fulfillment. Alas, as a young man his quest is led astray by the mistaken belief that love — his great desire — can be achieved through material gain; as a middle-aged man he is rich and well-read but cold and aloof. He must come full circle as a person and regain his ability to love and connect with others.

The film divides easily into "acts" based on this premise; they are:

  • Gestation - Taiko drums, Mystère
  • Birth/Infant - Underwater ballet, "O"
  • Child - Bungee trapeze, Mystere
  • Youth [adolescent] - Aerial cube, Mystere
  • Young Man - Statue [hand-to-hand], Quidam
  • [Middle-Aged] Man - Banquine, Quidam

The film ran for several years in IMAX venues around the world, and is available on DVD.

This short film contains examples of:

  • Book Ends: A blue and yellow aurora borealis illuminating a starry sky.note 
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: The Narrator looks out at and addresses the audience directly for the film's closing line.
  • Deal with the Devil: The Young Man wants love badly enough to be willing to make this; a demon (represented by a stilt-walker who, in Mystere, is actually named "Mephisto") arrives as soon as he thinks so, and gives him the wealth and power he thinks will buy love for him via the golden hat that replaces the old one that's just blown away. Alas, The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, and while he doesn't become outright evil he ages into a man who thinks he has everything he wanted...and yet has no one to love or be loved by, because power, wealth, and knowledge became ends in themselves instead of means.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Played straight when the Young Man chooses the wrong path to happiness and the demon arrives. The skies darken, lightning flashes and thunder peals, and his hat is swept away by the wind.
  • Empathy Doll Shot: When the Child decides to pursue his destiny and lets the bungee "birds" carry him away, the teddy bear he intended to take with him falls to Earth. The Flounes take it with them as they try to catch up. When they are finally reunited with him — when he is an Old Man — they still have it. *sniff*
  • The Everyman: Our hero.
  • Evil Laugh: The demon has one.
  • Fountain of Youth: Played with. He becomes "young again" when he accepts the old hat, but physically ages into an Old Man.
  • The Four Loves: Explored.
    • Storge: The Flounes serve as The Child's first friends, parental figures, and constant companions. Unfortunately, as he becomes an Adolescent, he leaves them behind. They return at the end, when he achieves Agape.
    • Eros: The Young Man realizes he wants to be loved via witnessing the statue act (performed by a man and a woman), triggering his Deal with the Devil. The deal leads him away from all love, however...
    • Phileo: The Middle-aged Man is reminded of what he left behind when the Vagabond Girl offers friendship (and his old hat) to him, and the banquine performers are a demonstration of friendship's strength and power. Reaching an epiphany...
    • Agape: He becomes a man with an unconditionally loving heart.
  • Friend to All Children: The protagonist, in the end. It turns out that he's recounting his experiences to some of them (as well as the audience) as they prepare to embark on their own journies.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Zig-zagged. The protagonist is excited as he matures from Child to Youth to Young Man, as he becomes independent and able to shape his destiny...but he leaves his faithful guardians behind in the process, and eventually his adult longing for love leads to him becoming a chilly Middle-Aged Man who has no joy, wonder, or friends. In the end, he chooses to embrace his childhood ideals once more and thus reaches true maturity, becoming a loving Old Man who can guide others. Growing up doesn't suck...but one has to know what growing up truly means, namely learning and growing into an independent person without abandoning all ideals and connections with others.
  • Living Statue: The hand-to-hand performers are playing this.
  • Lonely at the Top: The Middle-Aged Man denies that he feels this way, but his memories and regrets nag at him...
  • Love Redeems: See The Power of Love below.
  • Match Cut: The transition from the Young Man in the garden to the Middle-Aged Man in his grand foyer is accomplished this way. We go from a Living Statue on a lily pad to a lifeless replica of it in an alcove.
  • Nameless Narrative: No characters have proper names, mostly because there isn't any real-world language dialogue between them.
  • Nostalgic Narrator
  • Overnight Age-Up: This effects the transformation of the Middle-Aged Man into the Old Man, with the twist that he doesn't feel old, as love redeeming him also gives him back his youthful spirit.
  • Paddleball Shot: While the IMAX 3D format is used primarily to give the film a look and feel of grandeur and envelopment, there are toss-things-in-the-viewer's face shots too: the first sight of a bungee "bird" is shot from the hero's POV as it descends to within inches of his/the viewer's face, for instance.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The final shot takes place just as the sun is beginning to rise; panning up to the remains of the clear, starry night sky, the drifting blue and yellow aurora borealis seen at the start of the film appears again up there — symbolizing both a happy ending (the protagonist has found personal fulfillment...) and a happy beginning (...and will now guide others towards their own destinies).
  • The Power of Love: It is altruistic love, born of respect and compassion for others, that brings the protagonist around and is declared the greatest of the three keys to fulfilling life's journey.
  • Rewritten Pop Version: The end credits music, taken from an act in "O", is in Simlish; the pop version that appeared on the soundtrack album replaced this with newly-written English lyrics.
  • Same Language Dub: For the closing scenes that have the protagonist actually speaking onscreen, the performer playing him has his voice dubbed over with Ian McKellen's (down to the gasps of delight when he's reunited with the Flounes). The filmmakers were able to get away with this because McKellen wasn't yet a household name when it was made — the first X-Men movie opened a few months after this hit theaters — so most viewers wouldn't have realized this trope was in effect.
  • Scenery Porn: Cirque du Soleil + scenes shot primarily on location rather than in a studio (save for the opening segment in the cave) + IMAX + 3D = this.
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The Flounes literally vanish into thin air after the aerial cube segment, representing The Everyman starting to forget his roots. They return at the end.
  • Silence Is Golden: There's no English dialogue — just linking narration that transitions into a monologue in the final scene.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The Young Man believes he has to leave his childhood dreams and wonder behind if he wants love and happiness, not realizing that the former work in tandem with the latter.
  • Singing Simlish: The film's soundtrack, though as noted above the CD included an English-language version of one song.
  • Speaking Simlish: The Flounes.
  • Stock Aesops: A few ambition-related ones work in tandem here. Happiness, adventure, and love are worth having and achieving — the bigger, the better — but if you try to do so via material things and/or cynicism, you'll be left lonely. You can only be truly fulfilled in life when you hang on to your childhood instincts and ideals (as the movie puts it, "Dreams, faith, and love").
  • Vanilla Edition: The DVD and Blu-Ray editions; even though the film had two trailers and a promotional short — the latter appeared on the VHS release! — they're never included on disc despite tons of available space, owing to the film's brevity.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: The Youth's flight over the desert canyons, shot from his POV and filling over a minute-and-a-half of screen time, is the most obvious example. The Child and the Flounes exploring the forest also counts, especially with the odd creatures (Mystere characters) roaming about.
  • You Are Not Alone: The Vagabond Girl comes to return the old hat to the Middle-Aged Man, representing the niggling doubts he has; she and the banquine performers remind him of What True Happiness Is.