The Tragic Heroism of Hopefulness: The Myth of Sisyphus in a Gorgeous 1974 Oscar-Nominated Hungarian Animation

An evocative homage to one of humanity’s most human heroes by the great Hungarian graphic artist and animator Marcell Jankovics.


Standing among the most memorable heroes of Greek mythology is Sisyphus — the prince whose moral foibles Zeus punished by dooming him to roll a boulder up a hill eternally, the rock rolling back down each time Sisyphus manages to muscle it to the top. In the millennia since, his myth has permeated the fabric of culture, most famously by inspiring Albert Camus’s 1942 masterwork The Myth of Sisyphus, which contains one of the most arresting opening sentences in all of literature and poses philosophy’s deepest question: whether or not life is worth living.

In modern life, Sisyphus has become a metaphor for laborious futility. We call Sisyphean the task of, say, replying to messages in an exponentially overflowing inbox. But residing in Sisyphus is also something invisible to the pitying or scornful cynic’s eye — not the foolishness of his plight, but its fundamental hopefulness. Inherent to doing a task so self-defeating over and over without losing heart is the elemental belief that it can be done. Rather than letting his crushing despair crush him under the collapsing rock, Sisyphus presses on and on and on. He may be a tragic hero, but he is first and foremost a hero, precisely for this unrelenting faith in the possibility of accomplishing the impossible. His optimistic tenacity renders him the epitome of the creative spirit captured in Steinbeck’s assertion that a great artist “always works at the impossible.”

In this beautiful Oscar-nominated 1974 animated film, Hungarian graphic artist and animator Marcell Jankovics (b. October 21, 1941) brings to life the myth of Sisyphus in a minimalist, maximally evocative black-and-white visual narrative.


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