“We hide like happy elephants.”
À bout de souffle, Jean-Luc Godard
For some odd reason, this quote really buries itself deep down in my bones; it’s from Godard’s 1960 la nouvelle vague (French New Wave) film À bout de souffle (aka Breathless). On the surface it really holds nothing more than an interesting simile, but the irony certainly lends itself to deep consideration. Generally speaking, one never imagines an elephant to be hiding from anything; these massive mammals walking around in their herds, encircling their young if any danger disrupts their path. And what precisely does a happy elephant look like? Hmm, I haven’t the faintest idea. Perhaps it’s a twinkle in the eye or a smile-like gaping of the mouth, trunk raised toward the sky. But then again, what does that really have to do with anything? Classically, French New Wave films are filled to the brim with irony and sarcasm, the notion of the absurd (and how human life is as such), and how an individual can be an interesting subject to behold and how one can philosophically ascertain a meaning of life, love, and death. Breathless does this beautifully; but why should Michel and Patricia (the central characters of the film) compare their lives (a car thief and journalist, respectively) to that of “hid[ing] like happy elephants”? It strange to me, and, if you can’t tell by endless rambling, I am still puzzled by it. Who knew that a singular line of dialogue could amount to such a monumental mass of internal chatter? (I’m hardly schizophrenic, mind you).
This quotation is taken from a scene in which Michel and Pat are discussing their lives and the happiness they could obtain while being together. All Michel wants to do is have sex with Pat, while Pat is closing her eyes trying to see nothing except black but she is unable to do so. During this long section in Pat’s hotel room, the two end up covering themselves with the sheets; rapid jump cutting ensues (which Breathless epitomizes: Godard perfects the jump cut in this film, becoming the basis of a new kind of editing style, changing the editing process forever), and Pat states, while the two are still under the sheets, “We hide like happy elephants.” They then, we can assume, copulate. Happy elephants, at least to me, would not be hiding; they would be frolicking through the savanna or jungle or wherever they may be, but not hiding.
In Hinduism, the elephant is found in Ganesha, the god of luck; the elephant in and of itself is symbolic of honor, stability, dependability, and patience. Perhaps Pat’s remark makes more sense when considering the end of Breathless. Pat betrays Michel, and he ends up dying while running away from some investigators (he becomes “out of breath”). I believe that Pat knows all along that she can never go to Rome with Michel, that she never fully quite understands him (frequently asking what something means); or, perhaps, she’s playing him all along and has been in cahoots with the investigators the entire time. After all, Pat doesn’t seem too heartbroken that Michel dies. When Pat makes this comment, it is ironic: not just in the fact that happy elephants wouldn’t hide, but that of these two “happy elephants,” they, or at least one, will not be so lucky. Michel is hardly a stable or patient individual (he has anger issues and seems to be led solely by his id), and his life of thievery is far from honorable. It appears that Michel’s luck has run out, and that Pat is partially the cause of this.
This is all, of course, purely speculation; I have no idea what Godard was thinking, and it seems a little ridiculous (though still quite fun) to dissect a five word remark from this wonderful film. I’m not entirely sure if I’m getting anywhere, or if this is just a step in the opposite direction, but it is interesting when thinking about the film as a whole. Who knows: this could just be a throwaway line that Godard wrote on a whim. It would be enormously interesting to ask Godard, since he is still alive, about this line. But, I digress. À bout de souffle is a spectacular film, and it was my introduction to Godard. Besides this film, I have also seen Vivre Sa Vie and Bande à part, and I just began watching Week-end. I’m excited to watch more of Godard, but I’ll still be thinking about Breathless and this minuscule but intriguing quote.
Criterion’s Three Reasons:
PS: I honestly have no idea what I am going to do with this blog; the idea suddenly smashed into my brain’s convolutions and I decided to create what is seen here.