“Hector, come! You have to see! The wind!”
Hector’s (Simon Pegg) search for happiness hits its first spiritual high atop the mountains in China. As he Skypes with girlfriend Clara (Rosamund Pike), who tells him he “looks really small” through the awkward viewpoint of a computer webcam, the satellite providing his internet connection blows off the roof. His disdain is interrupted by the enthusiastic summons of an elderly man who has been interested in Hector’s journey. He tells Hector to come outside and see the wind, but it’s not just the wind he wants him to see.
The exterior of the building is decorated with Tibetan prayer flags, a colorful cloth often strung about the mountain ridges and peaks of the Himalayas. These flags are an ancient custom that predates Buddhism, which are used to send prayers throughout the land. The belief is that wind blows the flags and carries any prayers performed beneath them to all the surrounding countryside and areas.
Their order and colors are significant. They are arranged left to right by blue, white, green, red, and yellow. These colors represent the five elements: blue is the sky, white is the air, red is fire, green is water, and yellow is the earth. Tibetan medicine predicates harmony can be found through balance of the five core elements.
The flags appear in Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014) at a time when Hector is feeling vulnerable. He just experienced a situation in China that embarrassed him, and he begins to feel the initial pangs of disconnect from Clara. Seeing as he’s been given his first hands-on doses of “real life,” and witnessed some of the unpleasantries of what life has to offer as a boy-man on an adult’s expedition, he could grow listless of his journey. He instead takes the encounter with the beautifully-flowing prayer flags as reassurance, and they symbolically carry his journey forward.
The symbolism within the prayer flags returns at the end of the film, when Hector is hooked up to Professor Coreman’s (Christopher Plummer) brain-analyzing machine. His explosion of emotions resembles the colors of the flags, indicating he has achieved harmony within the elements of his own existence.