Monday, October 11, 2010
Fantastic Mr. Fox -- identity and responsibility
Director: Wes Anderson, 2009. (PG)
Fantastic Mr. Fox is, well, pretty fantastic. It may not be the best animated movie of 2009 (that honor goes to Up), but it is certainly one of the best. And it is Wes Anderson's (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore) first foray into animation with this adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's classic. Here he uses a stop-motion approach, with real-life models painstakingly photographed frame by frame. What helps the beauty of this film is that he kits these models out with real fur, which gives them a sense of reality as this fur is moved between frames.
As an Anderson film, it carries with it many of this auteur's trademarks: wry humor; rock and roll songs as the back-beat to many of the key scenes, including the eponymous Rolling Stones; montage scenes; and common themes of identity crisis and family dysfunction. And he uses several of his "regulars": Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, etc.
As the film opens Mr. Fox (voice of George Clooney) is talking to his wife Mrs. Fox (voice of Meryl Streep, Julie and Julia). He persuades her to take the "scenic walk" home which brings them by a farm, where he proceeds to do what comes naturally: steal chickens. When the trap is sprung and they are caught inside, she reveals a secret: they are expecting a cub! His excitement is curbed. Potential family responsibility dampens his enthusiasm.
We cut ahead a couple of years. The Foxes have a cub, Ash (voice of Jason Schwartzman) and are living underground . . . in a fox-hole. The wild Mr. Fox has settled down to his fatherly responsibilities, having giving up chicken-stealing for newspaper-writing.Yet he pines for two things: danger, and an above-ground tree home. Like many humans, he wants to improve himself and his family. But when he gets his new home, he still wants his old hobby. He wants to fall off the wagon with just one more raid. Like the alcoholic craving another drink, Mr.Fox feels the itch of an obsession he cannot scratch.
Added to this plot is the presence of Kristofferson (voice of Eric Anderson), the Fox's nephew who arrives to stay with them while his father is ill. Kristofferson is a tall and naturally gifted athlete, something that Ash is not. Given that Mr. Fox was a champion athlete, Ash wants to walk in his father's footsteps, but everyone, including his parents, recognize and verbalize that he is different: smaller and uncoordinated.
One of the main themes, then, is the identity crisis of Ash and Mr. Fox. Ash wants to be an athlete, but he will never be one. Mr. Fox wants to be wild and dangerous. He was once but has had to put this aside. Isn't this so anthropomorphic? We often want to be what we are not, or what we once were. We have trouble accepting who we are. Yet God has made us unique, different from others. We are what he wants us to be. We simply need to accept this and then pursue realizing our fullest potential in him.
Mr. Fox struggles with existentialism. At the start he says to Mrs. Fox, "Honey, I am seven fox years old. My father died at seven and a half. I don't want to live in a hole any more, and I'm going to do something about it." Later, in an interchange with Kylie, he says: "Who am I, Kylie? Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I'm saying this more as, like existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you'll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?" These might be questions we raise with our friends if we dip into philosophy, if we substitute professions for the animals.
Mr. Fox also struggles with his family responsibilities. He loves his family but wants what he was before fatherhood changed him. We sometimes feel this way, too. When we are single or married without children there are freedoms we enjoy that are removed when children come along. The blessing of babies brings with it the burden of providing and protecting. We simply cannot return to the days when we could do anything we wanted. There are others depending on us.
The final themes deal with leadership and differences. Mr.Fox is a charismatic fox and a leader in his family and among the animals. At first he uses his leadership for his own personal goals, to return to his former ways. When he does this he hurts his family and friends, bringing on conflict. But when he decides, at the end, to use it unite the animals around their common need for survival against the farmers, he brings success and empowerment.
We often want to be like someone else. But God has made us different, gifting us in unique ways. Our responsibility is to find our differences and utilize them for the good of our community. This is pictured in Scripture with the community of the local church (1 Cor. 12:12. The apostle Paul describes it metaphorically as a body, comprised of eyes, ears, arms, legs, feet and a head (1 Cor. 12:14-20). We all form a part, albeit a different one. If one part is missing the whole suffers (1 Cor. 12:26). We should not want to be someone else. If we are an arm, let us be one and use the arm wisely. Let us not seek to be a leg or an eye. And we need to realize there is only one head, and that is Christ (Col. 1:18).
The next time we look back on what we were with nostalgia and a desire to return, or we think about using our leadership responsibility for selfish ends, let's remember Mr. Fox. When he accepted who he was and took on the mantle of responsibility that the other animals demanded of him, he truly rose above ground and became "Fantastic Mr. Fox"!