The film opens with a bunch of kids waiting for the bus on a snowy day. You'll notice our boy is away off on his own hanging his head. Maybe it's because he's wearing a jean jacket with jeans?
Then the bus arrives into view, pulls up and all the kids get on. Only then does our boy board the bus too. Notice he's STILL hanging his head -- he does that a lot.
Once on the bus, our boy sullenly takes a seat (still hanging his head) while all the other kids talk animatedly around him. He naturally is ignored and does not join in.
Suddenly our boy gets up and walks to the bus driver. He apologizes and says he's got to get off the bus.
The bus driver pulls over and lets our boy off (like this would happen today!). Our boy takes a couple tentative steps. . .
. . .and falls face first in the snow (probably where a huskie just peed -- that would be his luck) and simply drops dead (literally). To underline the tragedy and emptiness (it WAS the 70's after all) the filmmakers freeze frame and insert the title card over the scene.
Now this is just great stuff! Bleak and hopeless -- just the way I like it! Things go on in the film for another 20 minutes give or take but nothing really measures up to this opening scene. Now, our boy was not on drugs or sick with a terminal illness; he simply stopped living. The film doesn't really tell us why except to postulate that our boy was so ignored and ostracized by teachers, students and family alike that he simply stopped living. Faded away like the "cipher" -- the "zero" -- he was treated as in life. It is interesting that the blame is placed equally on the boy's teachers for ignoring him -- interesting in the fact that MY teachers in MY school actually showed this film to us -- since the preoccupied teachers come off looking as culpable as the heartless students and lousy parents. The morale of the film is probably that we should treat each other better and not "blank" each other. However, I would rather take away from the film the idea that we can cause anybody we don't like to drop dead just by ignoring them. I'm gonna give that technique a try; I don't know about you.
The other 4 short films on the DVD are actually just as enjoyable to watch (in a "made-to-be-shown-in-the-classroom" way) and all of them pretty much retain that wonderful 70's downbeat feeling -- even though they are all supposed to be uplifting!!! "THE GIFT" is a nice little Christmas story which tries to tell us kids that we should do our chores BEFORE we're asked to do so and we'll be better people. THE EMMETT SMITH STORY has, in fact, absolutely NOTHING to do with a certain famous football player but is instead a true story about ANOTHER Emmett Smith who was a high school coach who had a brain tumor that was successfully operated upon resulting in a struggle to walk again. He in turn helps a paralyzed student to walk up to get her high school diploma. JOHN BAKER'S LAST RACE finds us watching yet ANOTHER high school coach -- but this time he's dying from cancer. . . but not enough to stop him from coaching the track team. This is also based on a true story. Finally THE PHONE CALL finds Mark McClure (Jimmy Olsen from Superman the Movie) as a dork who can't seem to ask a girl out on a date. This in fact is the most comedic of the bunch and is probably a welcome way to end the DVD after so many downers.
For those of us of a certain age who grew up in the 70's this DVD is truly a real blast from the past. I found it online very simply by searching for CIPHER IN THE SNOW on DVD. And if you can find it, the fairly cheap price makes it worthwhile to seek out. If you're into that kinda thing.