REVIEW: Helium [2013]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 23 minutes | Release Date: 2013 (Denmark)
Director(s): Anders Walter
Writer(s): Christian Gamst Miller-Harris & Anders Walter

“They say I’m going to Heaven”

What do you tell a young child dying of an inoperable disease? Do you fill his/her head with religious concepts of heaven and hell, explaining how innocence and youth guarantees a place in the former’s angelic clouds? For a kid like Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk) that’s simply not enough. Heaven is just a place—a sterile, overused destination he finds boringly clichéd and trite rather than some grand resting place someone who’s lived a long, fruitful life strives to achieve. He hasn’t lived, hasn’t had the opportunity, and to a cynical mind is being prevented from doing so by the exact same God his parents and doctors tell him is waiting with open arms. No, an imagination like Alfred’s needs more than the idyllic story those around him pretend provides comfort for anyone but them.

That’s how the titular locale of Helium takes shape—a magical world of adventure and wonder a boy surrounded by model blimps can grab ahold of and wish to find. A construct of new custodian Enzo (Casper Crump), this place becomes an alternative to heaven with personalized plots of land floating by balloons and populated with deceased family members waiting to play upon his arrival. It’s a glimmer of hope for a child who had none, one conscious of his fate and helpless to conform to generic beliefs. I’m not saying Catholicism is fiction (although I probably would in another context), but it most certainly is for a child who hasn’t grown up in the church to truly discover faith. Why not give him a new, more palatable “lie” if it makes him smile?

Writer/director Anders Walter has crafted a touching piece full of humanity and compassion courtesy of Enzo understanding little Alfred rather than placating him. You see the excitement in the boy’s eyes when Helium is introduced not only as a place to remind him of his room (tomb), but also as a creation he himself drew. Salvation is made real in his eyes through the lovingly told tale at his bedside complete with bright red balloon dog serving as his ticket aboard the Express. Both he and Enzo learn what it means to be human if only allowed each other’s company for a short few days. And with each fantasy vignette playing from behind Alfred’s closed eyes, we catch a glimpse of that hope. Not for his parents or the doctors alleviating their own pain and guilt, but for the boy himself.

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