Short film Alike delivers a harsh reality in a very quiet and almost innocent way. The animated short begins with a father loading his son’s backpack with seemingly a dozen schoolbooks before strapping the backpack on the son’s back. Naturally, he toddles under the immense weight placed on his tiny shoulders. Beside him, the father also stumbles under the weight of his own heavy briefcase.
On their way to school/work, they encounter a man playing the violin in the park. The young boy is clearly enraptured, but the father quickly hustles him back towards their destination. There is no time to enjoy the music. Though the violin player is out of sight, he is definitely not out of the little boy’s mind.
It is worth noting that with the exception of the boy, his father and the violin player/field where he’s playing, the entire world around them is devoid of color. All of the adults walk with a slow gait and slumped shoulders as they slink off to work. Once the father sits down at his desk, he is also drained of his color, an obvious statement on how many adults view their work. His color only returns at the end of the day when he sees his son again.
Their color, and the fact that the boy puts the color back in his father, shows that their connection is very strong, which only makes the father’s rejection of his son’s joy more heartbreaking. Slowly over the course of the short film, the young boy begins to lose his own color, because he is constantly robbed of what makes him special. It’s only when the father really looks at his son that he sees that the light inside the young boy is what bonds them.
The film is only about 8 minutes, but it is absolutely captivating and the ending is guaranteed to make you tear up (or sob your eyes out, either way).
In a “making of” video about the film, co-director Daniel Martinez Lara explains that the short is a reflection on fatherhood and the constant worry about whether we’re doing the right thing. Isn’t that our main worry as parents, how do we straddle the line of giving them the space to fly but also making sure they’re growing up to be not shitty citizens? We get so bogged down by our own bullshit that sometimes we lose sight of what’s most important.
Perhaps this is why the creators of the film decided to name the characters Copi and Paste? While sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that our children are extensions of us, we have to remember that they are their own people. Without realizing it, Copi is turning his son into the part of him that he likes the least — the day-to-day drudgery, robbing himself of joy. In his heart, he knows they are alike because of the love they have for each other. He will do whatever it takes to get the light back into his son, because that light is the source of joy for both of them.
If you look at the comments on YouTube, people are divided about the meaning of the film. Many people seem to think that it’s about the lack of creativity in the education system, since Paste is constantly denied an outlet for his creativity. That may be true, because it is a common complaint that many children are forced to conform to classroom norms versus letting their creativity thrive. As a person who was an incredibly creative child who grew into a creative adult, I am blessed to have parents who always encouraged me to follow my creative passions. I still excelled as a student, not in spite of being given that space, but because I was given that space. Having a place where I could be myself and express myself was hugely important to me being able to develop into a well rounded adult.
As a parent, Alike is a reminder of what happens when we try to over-parent our children. We don’t do it on purpose, but sometimes it’s hard to see the damage we’re doing. My son is young, but his current passions are a huge part of who he is. It is a constant battle to give him the space he needs to explore who he is as an individual, and also how he fits into the bigger picture of the world. He is a little boy who likes to do things his own way, and it is so hard to make him understand that sometimes we have to conform (even if only a little) to what society expects of us. I understand that, unfortunately, I have no choice, and giving him ways to learn and express himself at the same time is paramount to me.
In a world that asks so much of our young children, it is easy to get caught up in the rigidity of what “must” be done. But we also have to remember that kids are kids. Every child has a light inside of them that only adults are capable of extinguishing. They each have their own thing that makes them special. If we don’t encourage them and nurture what makes them an original, we are doing them, and the rest of the world, a great disservice.
We have to let them stop and enjoy the music.