The Periwig-Maker is an Oscar-nominated short claymation film at What follows is my interpretation (and a few spoilers). You should definitely see the short before you read this; it's about 15 minutes long, and very good.

One of the most subtly disturbing films I've ever seen, and a stunningly beautiful tragedy. After seeing it, I sat and thought for more than fifteen minutes about what this fifteen minute film meant, and what moral, if any, it held. In the end, remembering that "Fools learn from their own mistakes, and wise men from the mistakes of others," I tried to decide what was the central mistake made in the film.

At the beginning of the film, the periwig-maker refers to "a good person like I am." He was concerned by the state of the world outside, but not by himself. But after the girl's mother died of the plague, the Periwig-maker turned away from the girl's suffering at the hands of the guard out of fear, to preserve himself from infection. Predictably, she soon died a gruesome death after a short and painful life, and the periwig-maker was still physically as healthy as he ever had been. But his fear and horror of the city of London overrun by plague, and more important, his guilt over turning away from her, grew until he was almost mad- at which point, he went to the graveyard, cut off her hair, and made a wig from it, to honor and remember the girl and preserve her beauty, while destroying himself by the same infection from which she died. In the end, they both died miserable, one abandoned and the other guilt-stricken because he failed to help her.

The moral, of course, is that he probably wished he had helped her, even if they would have both died either way-- and after all, even without plague, they were both mortal. The periwig-maker's great mistake was to attempt self-preservation, which is never a certainty for long, at the expense of Christian charity and mercy. I'm not sure if this way of urging the audience to greater compassion is truly "hopeful," but being hopefully, recklessly compassionate probably IS better than being hopelessly, single-mindedly suicidal in response to this kind of massive danger and tragedy, which is of course only an exaggerated version of the death that is present at all times and places.

A little historical context for the plague can be found at

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