The Hedgehog tells the story of Paloma, an eleven year old girl who looks at the adults in her life and sees no fulfilment, honesty, or meaning. Her father gives attention to his political career at the expense of all else, while her mother covers up emotional issues with antidepressants. Paloma is left believing that the people in her family are each trapped in what she calls “the fishbowl,” where life is without meaning or genuine happiness. Wishing to escape the fate of becoming an adult, she resolves to commit suicide on her twelfth birthday. To Paloma, death is a better fate than to become trapped in the fishbowl herself.
What to expect:
- Well-written and entertaining dialogue
- Suicide themes
Discussion (Warning: Spoilers)
The film tells of the growth in two parallel characters: Paloma and Renée. However, Paloma’s character may be a puzzle to some. She is an unusual child, and very few people in her life seem to understand her. An insight is given early in the film, when Paloma overhears a dinner guest discuss the game, go.
The dinner guest describes go as “the Japanese equivalent of chess.” Paloma interrupts, saying that go was actually invented by the Chinese and not the Japanese, and she dives into a passionate rant about the difference in philosophy behind chess and go:
“No, my dear sir, you’re wrong. It’s not the same as chess. In chess, you must kill to win. One of the finest aspects of Go is that to win you must live, but also let the opponent live. Life and death depend on constructing well or poorly, and what counts is to construct well.”
This is a strange monologue to present to the audience. Considered in isolation, Paloma’s interruption of casual dinner conversation comes off as condescending and arrogant. Combined with her aloof behaviour, it is easy to see why she is often at odds with her family and their acquaintances.
However, in this monologue we can identify what is important to Paloma. She rejects the idea of destroying the competition, which her father is trying to do in his career, and sees her parents’ lack of peace and fulfilment as examples of lives constructed poorly. She holds very different values from those her parents teach, which leads to her disdain for adulthood.
This is the reason for such a radical change after Paloma spends time with Kakuro Ozu. He breaks social convention by reaching out to Paloma, a child, and Renée Michel, a concierge. Paloma sees in Ozu and Renée a way of constructing life, and it differs greatly from the competitive world of her parents where social class defines all interactions.
An aspect of Paloma’s character that the film does not address is her attitude towards those she believes to be constructing life poorly. By treating them as absurd characters on stage, she belittles them and puts herself at odds with almost everyone. This is very different from the approaches of her new friends, Renée and Ozu, who are both dedicated in their own way to being respectful to others. Even when chatting about the pet cats in Paloma’s family, Ozu claims that they must have some good qualities, while Paloma insists that they do not.
It is possible that Paloma will learn a more diplomatic approach by emulating the likes of Renée and Ozu, but the film gives no indication. Ultimately, it leaves Paloma’s character open-ended. She is a creative and unusual child, and we can only imagine what kind of adult she will be.