Pixar animators have this certain ability to build up our attachment to characters, leading us to sob and internally — and sometimes externally — scream “No!” when something threatens the character we’ve learned to love so much. Whether it be the toys in the furnace at the end of Toy Story 3 or Bing Bong in Inside Out, the Pixar animators always make us feel as if we’re losing true friends.
“Borrowed Time,” a short film created by Pixar animators Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats, released Oct. 14, is six minutes of unadulterated sadness, connecting us to its relatable protagonist as it quickly wears our emotions down. The short film follows a sheriff who returns to the location of his father’s tragic and fatal accident — a cliff where the young sheriff failed to save his father. Each step he takes towards the cliff’s edge presents a fragment of the event, which the sheriff has not been able to forget.
There is minimal dialogue in the short — the most notable is when the father tells his son that he “can do this” as he hands him the reigns of the carriage, moments after he gives his son his pocket-watch and sheriff’s hat. This moment resonates with viewers, reminding us of a time when we were trusted with a task — even something as small as overcoming a fear of heights to go on a rollercoaster or taking care of someone in their time of need.
Another tearing sound (Spoiler) is the accidental gunshot, which occurs right after you think the father is saved. It left my own eyes wide and my mouth gaping, my mind almost unable to comprehend the tragedy I had just witnessed.
And the animation is stunning. The sheriff doesn’t utter a single word, but the viewer identifies easily the overpowering pain in his face: as soon as the short begins, the huge bags under his eyes and his withering hair represent a life full of regret. In a flashback to his youth, his ocean-blue eyes show hope and excitement when he is handed the sheriff hat, but by adulthood they are only blue pools of sorrow. The sunny canyon is replaced with shades of cloudy grey to represent his emotional erosion.
So the question is: What should we learn from this?
It’s hard to tell because the only moment of triumph — if you can even call it that — is when the sheriff decides not to jump off the cliff to his death and climbs back onto safe ground.
However, when he climbs back up, rather than have a realization that he should let go of the past (as we would expect in another Pixar film), he sees a photo of himself and his father in his father’s old pocket watch and sobs. The camera pans to the bare landscape, and the short ends.
The lack of any happy moment opposes the tradition of climaxes and resolutions, reinforcing reality instead of striving to teach some sort of lesson. And it seems that this is what Pixar hopes to achieve — showing us that life doesn’t always teach a lesson. It can be an abyss from which there is no escape for as long as you are alive.
“Borrowed Time” challenges the barriers of Pixar-animated film-making. It pushes us to a point of sadness that we rarely feel and leaves us thinking about what life is worth and what would propel us to such a point of despair. With beautiful visuals and a true view of reality, “Borrowed Time” makes us live in the moment and think about what we hold dearest.
Correction (10/25 at 4:48 p.m.): The article originally misidentified “Borrowed Time” as a Pixar film. The film was made by Pixar animators independently through a co-op program at the studio. The review has been changed to reflect this correction.