Madame Tutli-Putli is a 2006 Canadian animated short by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, which was nominated for a 2007 Academy Award. It is exquisite—both in animation and in content. There seems to be much confusion about its meaning. But first, we need context. I don’t want to say a lot about what happens in this 15-minute film when you can (and should) just watch it. The only version I could find is in two parts, so I put them together via a playlist. As a result, there is a little hesitation between the two. It’s embedded below.
It should be clear to all that this film is about transformation, in a general sense. It would be easy enough to provide a Christian analysis of it, but I think this would be boring—trivializing the material the way that Christian analysis almost always does. The key to the film is the three appearances of the moth—always right before the appearance of a train light: before it first arrives, before it starts back up, and before the other train passes by. These appearances occur almost exactly at the beginning, middle, and end of the film.
The film Madame Tutli-Putli doesn’t really mean anything at all. It does, however, tell the story of Madame Tutli-Putli, who has an extremely meaningful experience—a transformative experience. At the start, she is weighted down by her possessions. She is terrified when she sees the sign warning of thieves. Soon after, the thieves arrive, gas the passengers, and steal all of her stuff. On waking, she notices the thieves removing a sleeping man’s kidney. After this is accomplished, one of the thieves moves close to her, indicating that she should be quiet. Apparently, they are not after her or her organs. In fact, one gets the impression that she is on their team—even if she doesn’t know it. Her suspicion that this has all been a dream is quickly dispelled by the mud tracks left by the thieves.
Now we see the train is empty. Were all those other people dead? The chess players certainly didn’t play chess, but rather just watched as the bouncing of the train arranged pieces on the board. The boy was physically protecting himself by reading a hardcover book titled “How to Handle Your Enemies.” The tennis player made crude sexual gestures. Everyone seemed combative but ultimately impotent and irrelevant. If they are still on the train—if they are still alive, they do not matter—to anyone.
She desperately makes her way to the dining car and her last encounter with the moth. But this time, instead of annoyance, there is tranquility—an almost destroying love. She follows the moth, knowing somehow that it is showing the way. She reaches the front of the train just as the other train passes by. And she is transformed: from a burdened, frightened creature to one who thrills in life.
And then the trains are gone and the forest is calm. Madame Tutli-Putli’s transformation is complete. It was turbulent, frightening, exciting, and most of all: difficult. But now it is done and there is peace. She is not dead. In fact, I think she is at last alive.
This film is on A Collection of 2007 Academy Award Nominated Short Films. These collections are always great. Each of the five live-action and three animated shorts are excellent. But just like The Academy: the weakest films (both still excellent) in each category won.