The Flying Sailor (2022) Short Film Review

The Flying Sailor (2022)
Directors: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby
Screenwriters: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby

6 December 1917. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Two ships collide in the harbour, causing the largest accidental explosion in history. A man, a sailor, is blown skyward from the deck of his British cargo steamer. He lands 4 kilometres away, stark naked but alive. This is his story.

2023 Oscars Animated Short nominee The Flying Sailor is one of the shortest films nominated across the 95th Academy Awards. At just 8 minutes, one of which is taken up by the credits, the abruptness of this project is akin to to the explosion itself. But this isn’t a blunt-force dramatisation of extreme impact and epic-scale suffering, it’s more philosophical than that. Exactly what happens during such an event – the pain, the trauma, the fear, but also an entire life being remembered – is evaluated and put to screen, childhood memories interspersed with the deep reds of bloody impact and the somewhat off-kilter comedy that comes from a naked animated man propelling through the air.

It’s not exactly funny, The Flying Sailor, but it is certainly tongue-in-cheek with regard to certain elements. The human body shouldn’t be a laughing matter, but the manner in which this particular creation with caricatured proportions rotates through the air, penis on show, against the backdrop of billowing smoke and flying objects (including a comically placed fish), cigarette in mouth, is amusing. It’s fitting, too, for a story as almost unbelievable as this one – who’d have thought a man could survive such an event? That he’d be so cruelly stripped naked during his long-distance propulsion?

Equally as memorable, but certainly more poignant, are the sequences in which the flying man sees his life flash before his eyes. Played to a timeless and beautiful piano-led orchestral score from David Christensen, these moments are given the shimmer of old 8mm video tape projected onto a wall, memories of ships and waves and women and fights (some of which are shown in live-action) propelling the poor sailor towards an otherworldly experience. This experience, in which he flies directly towards the sun, takes a different form of animation, a minimalist one, with the flying man reduced to a pink ball as if returning to the source of his own creation in a manner not too dissimilar to Terrence Malick’s existential universe sequence in The Tree of Life, the dust of the universe flinging him back as if re-establishing life itself, the score raging like a classic Disney animation, the man bluntly re-entering consciousness as a new being touched by whatever force it is that binds us all.

It’s all so beautifully done. The score is decisive, impactful, pointed. The animation is a 2D and 3D amalgamation that creates an off-kilter look, helping to smuggle the deeper meanings of the piece into your mind through its comedic sensibilities. What it has to say is more impactful than you might expect, especially for a film without dialogue and no particular reliance upon ordinary presentations of success and failure.

The Flying Sailor is one of those animated shorts that you can engage with for just a short while, giggle at and think about, then forget about later. But if you do stop to think a little more about this little story, you’ll come to recognise the intricacy of what filmmakers Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby have constructed, and see the epic scale of the monumental story beneath its short run-time and basic structure.

Score: 16/24

You can watch The Flying Sailor in full on YouTube courtesy of The New Yorker.

More Oscar-nominated short film coverage can be found on our Short Films page.

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