My short visit to Russia made me nostalgic of the good old cartoons we grew up with in the former USSR. “Hedgehog in the Fog” (Russian: Ёжик в тума́не, “Yozhik v tumane”) was never among my favourites when I was a child: it had no songs in it, hardly any words at all and although the plot was straightforward I always had a feeling there was more to it only I couldn’t get it.
The stop-motion movie was made at Soyuzmultfilm by Yuri Norstein and his little film team in 1975.
The little hedgehog is on his way through the woods to see his friend the bear cub with whom he fancies drinking tea and counting stars at night. He is so engrossed in the internal dialogue with his friend he does not notice following him huge owl. All of a sudden he sees a white horse in the fog and curious how it feels to be in there enters the fog. A new world unfolds before him, unpredictable and dangerous and he sees everything like for the first time: an oak leaf, a bat, a tree… As fog shifts, the scenery is transformed. The frightened little fella looses the jar with the raspberry jam he was carrying to his friend but suddenly a friendly spaniel appears out of the fog and delivers the lost baggy.
This is not the end, though. Disoriented, the hedgehog falls into the river and at first tries to swim but soon gives up and decides to simply go with the flow and see where it gets him. The internal dialogue stops and he simply observes what he is dealing with – the sensation of being soaked and the possibility of drowning. At this point he does not seem to be afraid of dying. When he accepts the reality of things, he hears a voice that asks him who he is and how he got there and honestly answers the question. The friendly Someone delivers him to the shore and the hedgehog soon gets reunited with his worried friend. Although the hedgehog is relieved they are together again, he remembers the white horse and wonders: “How is she there… in the fog?”
The cartoon (subtitles in English)
Needless to say I watched the film with new eyes now, years later. We need to get lost in order to find that part of the self, to accept the insecurity of shedding many other layers of the self. In the fog nothing is solid or clear any longer but this is the risk we have to take.
I was struck by the abundance of water-related imagery (well, water puddle, river, fog, whale/fish) which for me are associated in the first hand with Christianity. However, the idea of the healing powers of water goes back to the prehistoric cults. After his fall into the river the hedgehog gives up grasping for security and comfort of the known and his own understanding of the world. Isn’t what in Zen Buddhism we call “dropping off body and mind” when “things made up inside our heads fall away”?*
Turn off your mind, relax
and float downstream.
It is not dying ,
It is not dying.
(Beatles, “Tomorrow Never Knows”)
Did the hedgehog get baptised in the river or am I reading too much into it???
peering into the deep well – searching for the true self (?)
fog – the ever-changing scenery of life; the realm of our mind that interprets reality and makes it into something else depending on one’s emotional state (seeing a scary figure of an elephant in the fog)
tree -temporary sanctuary; security;
river – life; reality;
The animals the hedgehog encounters (owl, bat, moths, dog (the intuitive self), whale, are the other aspects of the self.
white horse – our radient essence, the pure awareness itself
By the end of the film the hedgehog is transformed by this experience. I can relate to what Dean Cleyuter writes in his “Cinema Nirvana” about the Snow White waiting for the Prince to find her: “Our inner nature wants, as it were, to be found. It’s not enough merely to be that luminous clarity; we must somehow come to know it. This knowing is not an idea or a feeling but a direct experience – in fact, the experience, satori, nirvana, rigpa, the peace that passeth understadning…”.
A charming little story, skillfully and beautifully told. I am glad I watched it again now, years later and experiences older. The fears remain basically the same, altough the scenery is changing. I now know better than believing the monsters are out there and you can actually run away from them from them. The fog is in my head.
*Kosho Uchiyama, “Opening the Hand of Thought”, 2004, p. 141.