A young boy, Finn, goes out on a family hike with his father. But bored despite the bucolic setting, he takes his video game with him, preferring his electronics to the nature surrounding him.
But when he pays more attention to the game than the world around him, his father gets angry and takes Finn’s game away. Left with just his five senses, though, he finds himself intrigued by a new set of sounds that allow him to go on his own mystical exploration of the forest around him, engaging him in his environment in an entirely novel, playful way.
Writer-director Simon Weber’s short film is a joyful, engaging excursion into childhood reverie, the pleasures of solitude and a paean to the natural world. Shot with graceful camerawork and vibrant colors, it does a remarkable job in juxtaposing Finn’s interior world with the world of nature, fusing both into a deeply grounded yet vibrantly imaginative journey.
Told almost entirely with no dialogue, the film nevertheless feels kinetic and briskly paced, thanks to engaging, energetic editing and an excellent score and sound design that knits Finn’s world of technology with the natural surroundings. The game’s blips and bloops becomes synced with natural movements like the rustle of grass, the skip of rocks in the stream or the texture of a mushroom. Sound engages Finn’s imagination, taking his attention from the screen into his surroundings, but it also physicalizes the joy of bringing the playfulness of gaming into a real, concrete space.
The film is beautifully shot, and the images pop with lush green grasses, shimmers of sunlight and the rich colors of flora and fauna of the forest. With sweeping camera movements capturing Finn’s wanderings into the forest, nature becomes a wondrous, happy, magical place with a powerful inner life of its own. As nature seems to communicate with Finn through the sounds of his imagination, it becomes the greatest playmate of all, culminating in a classic, playful confrontation.
There is much concern about kids, screentime and the loss of real-world play as smartphones and gaming devices become integrated more tightly into the experience of childhood today. But what “Sounds of Nature” does well is achieve a balance — it doesn’t demonize the idea of video games or screentime, but reminds us that these modern devices tap into eternal impulses to play, amuse and entertain. Though they’re enormously seductive — and designed to keep us playing or using — there’s a way to pull those impulses away from the device and into the world. We can bring that spirit of play with us anywhere, and let it pull us into a magical relationship with the world outside our heads.