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Albatross Soup – by Winnie Cheung

A psychedelic animation that explores the creative thinking generated by a famous riddle

2018 | 5 - 10 | Animation | Dreams | Fantasy | USA

“A man walks off a boat. He walks into a restaurant, orders the Albatross soup. He takes a bite, pulls out a gun, and kills himself. Why did the man kill himself?”

If you have heard of this riddle before, you’ll also know that the answer is not straightforward, and requires a certain dose of what is known as lateral thinking. The riddle is at the basis of the psychedelic animation short Albatross Soup directed by Winnie Cheung, in which a group of more than 50 people were asked to answer the riddle by only asking “yes” or “no” questions to an omniscient narrator.

While the participants attempt to formulate hypotheses out loud to try and figure out what prompted the man to commit suicide, the illustrations by Toronto based artist Fiona Smyth (animated by Masayoshi Nakamura), synchronised with the reasonings, give life to a dreamlike piece of animation halfway between a nightmare and a dream, which follows the speakers’ stream of consciousness, constantly creating and dissolving images of the castaway and his fate.

As for the inspiration for the project, which was premiered at Fantasia International Film Fest 2018 and later screened at Sundance in 2019, Cheung explained: “My friend came back with this fascinating riddle while interviewing for his doctoral program in neuroscience and metacognition at UCLA. […] I knew instantly that this stream of consciousness guessing would be the perfect premise for an animated short”. It is in fact interesting to witness the cognitive and creative process that through various lines of reasoning, brings the participants increasingly closer to the macabre solution.”

One step at a time, the various key points of the story are revealed, and in one last audiovisual recap, the mystery is finally revealed. No spoilers though: enjoy this brilliant animation if you want to find out the solution.

Federica Pugliese

Federica Pugliese

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