Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1964)

I didn’t know this 1964 short film directed by Gene R Kearney, or the 1934 short story written by Conrad Aiken, from which it is adapted. I feel like I should have known it – or rather, I feel I have always known this story, just not in this specific form.

Admittedly, it’s a very strange story, as a boy slips from the mundane reality of his family and school into a world of ‘secret snow’ – snow that is non-corporeal and imaginary, but which comes to transform the boy’s immediate environment and transfix his attention.

A quick look at the prevailing ideas about ‘the ‘meaning’ of Silent Snow, Secret Snow suggests we are to read this film as being about the onset of schizophrenia or some other regrettable episode of illness, but I don’t feel this way about it at all.

What Silent Snow, Secret Snow captures so perfectly – and so recognisably – is the truth of living with our creative imaginations, of what it means to carry invented worlds around with us in which others cannot share, taking them to school so we may daydream our way back into them during boring lessons, or sitting with them at the dinner table as we wish to be somewhere more magical.

I think this is every child’s reality, not some especial case-study in childhood dysfunction. This is every storyteller’s reality too, for what is storytelling if not the ability to see snow that isn’t there, and imagine it so strongly it may as well be? This is the story too of all the individuals who must live with storytellers, who must sit across from them in the knowledge they are rejected by the private imaginative acts going on inside the heart and mind of this other person – that the person before them is always somewhere else and seeing what isn’t there.

Aiken’s story is often categorised as ‘horror’. I find this taxonomy peculiar. I can find no horror here – or rather I am not horrified by what is happening to the boy in the story. Instead, I am comforted by his secret snow, and when, at the conclusion of the film, his bedroom fills with showers of ice crystals, I experience envy. How magical for him, I think. How lucky.

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