A man walks off a boat. He walks into a restaurant, orders the albatross soup. He takes one bit, takes out a gun and kills himself. Why did the man kill himself?
Winnie Cheung’s psychedelic short film, animated by Fiona Smyth, revolves around this riddle – from the enigmatic question over puzzled attempts by 50 different people to solve it to its haunting solution. The chorus of voices tries to narrow down what happened by asking the narrator yes / no questions. After receiving a series of affirmative responses to their questions, the group ultimately figures out why the man killed himself.
The albatross’ role in this mysterious story is clearly no coincidence. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the albatross is “a source of frustration or guilt; an encumbrance (in allusion to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner)”. The bird is a symbol of doom in Coleridge’s poem from 1798:
Ah! well a-day! What evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
In the riddle, the man feels insurmountable guilt when eating the soup. The group that tries to solve it identifies the reason for the man’s feelings step by step. Cheung’s process of making the movie followed a similar path. In an interview with Vimeo, the director described it as follows:
I knew that I had the right ingredients to make a fun animated film from both a narrative and technique perspective, but I didn’t really know what the process was going to be like. Like the riddle, I had to figure it out as I went along.
The result is mesmerizing. The animation depicting more or less plausible attempts to solve the riddle in vibrant colours and with the psychedelic swirls make it a visual experience that is definitely worth watching.