Released in 2018, The House of Small Cubes is a short animation coming in at 12 minutes long.
I typically watch movies on the bus to work. Since my commute is so long I can get though about two a day which suits me quite well.
However, riding a bus at peak times means a lot of distractions. So I can really judge a movie based on whether or not I am aware of exactly what he said or what she said and how drunk they all were last weekend. Or whether my attention was entirely encapsulated by the movie playing on my iPad.
Oh boy was I encapsulated by this movie.
The beauty of The House of Small Cubes is that it tells a rich and emotional story without a single spoken word. I could feel both the pain and the happiness that the main character experienced, understand what he was thinking and truly empathise with him. All without hearing one word.
Just as a pre-warning, this review is comprehensive. I will describe the movie in its entirety so if you are adverse to spoilers, please, watch the movie first then come back to finish reading.
The House of Small Cubes takes place in a world (or at least a small area of one) that is slowly and gradually flooding.
The short film opens with some subtle establishing shots of towers protruding from the water with no real scale of how far down they go.
Some of the towers never made it to the current sea level, whilst some are just barely poking through.
Yet somehow it doesn’t feel like a crisis, it doesn’t feel like a frantic panic to survive. You either build another level to your house – or you don’t. Whether or not that means relocating or is a result of poverty or death, it is never made clear.
Which is exactly why I love this movie. The subtleties and the level of mystery behind this intriguing world.
I did wonder whether or not it was a statement on global warming, society or something else political. But I haven’t read any reviews or articles about the movie prior to writing this, in order to keep my review genuine. So I have no firm idea what the statement was, or whether it is a statement at all.
We are introduced to a main character who appears old and weary.
We don’t know what his name is or really anything about him other than he fishes through a hole in his one single room and he smokes a pipe.
His first action is to catch a fish and eat it with a glass of wine. Quite alone, visibly and emotionally alone.
Life for him seems incredibly simple, routine and without excitement.
Even when he wakes to find that the water level has caught up to him. Our protagonist does little more than construct another layer to his tower and moves his furniture upwards.
He does this by purchasing materials from a boat which seems to serve as a shop. Which for me implies that there is some kind of remaining civilisation or land elsewhere and that it isn’t in fact post-apocalyptic. I get the feeling that this man lives in this tower because it is his home. And he doesn’t know much else.
Life goes on it seems. That is, until he drops his pipe through the fishing hatch in his new room.
Our protagonist, deeply troubled by the loss of his pipe, notices a diving suit on the boat where he purchases supplies.
After buying it he suits up and dives through the hole in his newly finished room, into the remnants of his previous one.
This is where The House of Small Cubes really kicks in, emotionally.
One thing I noticed as he dives through the layers of what used to be his home, is each level has a different amount of furniture or personal belongings left behind. If the calm “this is how we live now” reaction to the flooding is anything to go by, I feel as if these items were left by choice or lack of need and not as a by-product of rushing to escape the flood.
He finds his pipe relatively quickly, it’s only fallen down two floors.
Our protagonist picks up his pipe and a flashback hits him, of his aged wife handing it to him.
Flooded with a sense of nostalgia, I assume, he opens the hatch and dives further. Into both his house, and his memories.
The floor directly below has a single bed, where we see his aged wife, sick. He feeds her some soup. Together, they are happy, not sad. This is not some trauma that ripped them apart. This is just life.
Further down we see him and his wife with a larger family, two adults and two children. They take a photo together and at this point the music hits such beautiful notes.
Deeper into his life, his child (the woman), brings home a man whom she marries. Our protagonist seems reluctant initially, as would be expected of a protective father.
Layers down, the flashbacks show larger constructions outside. Essentially the area looks like a thriving river town.
As I said, I really get the feeling that in The House of Small Cubes, our old man lives here because it is his home, that he built. After all, his daughter and her family must have moved elsewhere and I can’t imagine them living in one of the adjacent disappearing houses.
As we hit the final floor, he steps outside to see a desolate landscape of the towers that couldn’t keep up. The movie switches seamlessly between these striking moments of realisation, and the happy-go-lucky memories of this old man.
When he exits on the ‘ground’ floor, we are treated to a lovely montage of he and his wife running around a large tree, growing older. As young adults, he proposes to her and they build a house together.
Within the constructed house, he swirls a glass of wine with a cheeky grin and they clink the glasses together. Happy.
Back to reality, our protagonist finds the glass lying by his feet and takes it with him.
The House of Small Cubes
The story ends with the main character pouring a second glass of wine with his dinner. He swirls the glass with the same cheeky grin and clinks it to the other.
I found this movie incredibly emotional and I can see how it can be highly relatable. Based on this I would love to see the reaction to it of anyone who equally lived a full life. Rather than myself as I am more or less beginning my own.
And that’s what I took from this movie. It could be seen as a truly sad, depressing tale. He lived his life and now he’s alone.
But, I take a different meaning from this which I have come to feel is the intended one.
The House of Small Cubes, yes, refers to his house which is built up of ‘small cubes’. Though, I think a much more fitting analogy is that between the title, and his life.
All of these small moments, built his life. These treasured memories allowed this man to live a full and truly happy life. One, I think, without any regrets.
Well, what you take away from this movie is, I suppose, based on your own experiences.
Personally as I said, it makes me feel emotional but happy. Perhaps these are the important things in life, just to be with the people you love, in a home that is yours.
I have watched The House of Small Cubes twice now, once initially and another time to strengthen my review.
Realistically, I am sure that I will watch this movie again and again over the years. It really had that kind of impact on me.
I recommend it to anyone and at 12 minutes, free on Netflix, it’s a worthy investment of your time.
Let me know what you thought by leaving a comment below. How did the movie affect you, if at all?
I would love to discuss the deeper layers of the flood aspect with anyone who has an opinion on that.
– Adam Pemberton