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Film / Parable

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Parable is a 1964 short film (22 minutes) directed by Rolf Forsberg.

It is a Christian film, commissioned by the Council of Churches for the City of New York, and first exhibited at the Protestant Paviliion of the 1964 World's Fair. The film, told without any dialogue, centers around a traveling circus. As the circus is trundling through the countryside, it is followed by a clown dressed all in white, riding on a donkey. The clown does various good deeds for the people of the circus: he carries the water for the man who was fetching water buckets for the elephants, he takes the place of the man in the dunking booth, and he liberates a magician's assistant from her boss's impaled-by-swords routine. These people become his followers.

Finally he enters the big top, where a man named Magnus has a "human marionette" act, a rather terrifying show in which living people are hung from the top of the tent while Magnus controls them as puppets, complete with strings. The clown, seeing this spectacle, makes the ultimate sacrifice.

This film was controversial in some quarters in 1964 for depicting Jesus as a circus clown, but it won a shelf full of awards for short films and was screened in churches for many years after. It was an inspiration for the musical Godspell, which also depicts Jesus as a clown.


  • Allegory: A clown in a circus demonstrating the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Magnus is shown in his trailer, after the clown has died, tormented by guilt. He then starts smearing white greasepaint over his face. The last shot then shows Magnus dressed all in white as the clown was, following the circus caravan as the clown did.
  • Back from the Dead: Averted; despite the film being an allegory for the Passion Play, the clown does not come back from death as Jesus does. Instead, he is "resurrected" through Magnus carrying on his legacy.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: The clown, still hanging from the puppet harness and strings after he's been stoned to death.
  • Dead Guy Puppet: Magnus does this for a bit with the clown before the enormity of his crime hits home.
  • Evil Puppeteer: Magnus is rather cruel to the people in his puppet show, and he participates in the murder of the clown. Then he has a moment of redemption.
  • I Kiss Your Foot: The clown and his followers dust the shoes of the audience at the circus.
  • Jumped at the Call: The water carrier, the man in the dunk tank, and the woman from the magic act don't hesitate to follow the clown.
  • Kubrick Stare: From Magnus the puppeteer as he looks up at the corpse of the clown.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Magnus goes through this after helping murder the clown.
  • Narrator: One at the beginning that explains the Christian practice of using parables, short stories meant to illustrate a moral point. After that intro the narrator is disposed of.
  • Nameless Narrative: Almost. Magnus is named by the sign on his trailer, but that's the only name we get.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: Instead, a highly symbolic one.
  • Passion Play: The clown is strung up by Magnus and then stoned to death by the people he has angered—the magician, the ticket-seller that he skipped past, and the man throwing baseballs at the dunking booth.
  • People Puppets: Quite literally, as Magnus manipulates human beings as a puppeteer.
  • Silence Is Golden: No dialogue other than the opening narration.
  • Stage Magician: One is doing the impalement trick with swords; he gets very angry when the clown disrupts his act.
  • Suddenly Speaking: Sort of. The clown lets loose with an agonized scream as he hangs from the top of the tent. It's a rather dramatic moment as not only is there not any dialogue, there isn't any ambient noise in the short other than that scream, only the soundtrack.