I attended the McPherson Opera House’s event Manhattan Short last week, but I have been pondering the themes and messages of three particular films ever since.
More than 500 films from 49 countries were selected to take part, and 10 competed among the worldwide voters. As I watched the shorts play back-to-back, I felt privileged to be one of the voters, especially since my top choice won the gold medal. The winner (Superman, Spiderman or Batman) was a heartwarming, real-life story, but it was three others that have provided an array of recent conversation topics.
The most striking film was “Two and Two.” In a strict boy's school setting, a teacher insists that two plus two equals four. After asking the class to repeat the phrase and repeatedly write it down, one student rises to oppose what he knows is incorrect. He is ultimately killed in front of his peers to demonstrate the need for submission to authority.
My allegiance quickly took the side of the outspoken classmate. He was the only individual who stood up for what was right rather than what was popular or easy. Standing in the minority develops character and lets others know there are more important things than being accepted. His peers were not bold enough to speak for themselves, nor did they take his side, even though they knew he was right. Older schoolmates also came into the room and threatened the boy with “guns” — they took the stance of holding a large weapon, but their arms were empty. This seemed to symbolize the intensity of society’s pressures and caused the boy to think critically about his actions.
The boy also was the only one thinking for himself. Yes, there are situations where following instruction is the right thing, but at some point children and adults should be asking those tough questions. I think it is important for individuals to evaluate their world, so that when they become contributing members of society, they are more than just a product of their surroundings.
In “The Devil's Ballroom,” an Arctic explorer makes the perilous and lonesome journey to be the first individual to travel to the North Pole. While celebrating his victory, however, he discovers he is not alone and kills a native to keep his status.
Although he spoke in a different language and flew the flag of his own country, I drew parallels to similar attitudes I've seen in the U.S. I'm not saying the majority of us would go that far to get where we want to be, but it's all too common to step on others to get ahead. This could be undercutting a co-worker, but it could also be something a simple as not acknowledging individuals on a personal level. I think it's important to evaluate where we're headed. Are we moving forward honorably, or are we leaving a trail of hurt people behind us? Are we willing to acknowledge when we've made a mistake? Are we going to be proud of how we moved forward?
In “Where Does the Sea Flow?” a mother struggles to find meaning to her own life and the life of her young daughter. Just like water flows into the sea in an endless cycle, so her life seemed pointless. My heart went out to this character. To get up every day without a reason would seem hollow and unmotivating. I wish I could share with her the purpose and the hope I feel every day. I'm not saying life is full of butterflies and rainbows, but at the end of the day, I aim for the target of pleasing God. That's the secret — life isn't about me at all. It's about the privilege of being a part of a greater plan that is bigger than myself. I have the opportunity to do my part, and I am excited to do what I can during the short life I have.

Jenae Pauls is a staff writer for The McPherson Sentinel. She can be reached at jenae.pauls@mcphersonsentinel.com.