One of the questionable delights of Lars von Trier’s ‘Antichrist’, which we still haven’t seen at The Film Talk due to those oh-so-frustrating regional distribution patterns, is the appearance of a demonic fox who enlightens the audience with the motto: ‘Chaos Reigns’. And so it does, in Trier’s universe, this time round (you never can tell with Lars whether he’s joking or serious; whether he believes in the world of ‘Breaking the Waves‘ which endorses eternal life and the healing of all wounds; or ‘Dogville’, where even grace gives up). Speaking of dogs, and foxes, the ominous vulpe inspired a rumination on the cinema’s tendency to turn animals into representations of ourselves. Hence Tuesday’s Top Five List - which, if you, dear reader, like it enough may become a sporadically regular feature of TFT.
The Top Five Anthropomorphised Movie Animals (and What They Represent)
5 (tie): The Dog in ‘Short Cuts’ (1993), the Cat in ‘The Long Goodbye’ (1973)
Tim Robbins’ stressed cop character in Altman’s sprawling Los Angeles slice-of-postmodern-angst is the existential opposite of Elliot Gould’s private detective and Lebowski antecedent. Robbins spends most of the movie trying to lose the yapping puppy, one more responsibility for a married father who doesn’t want the weight of being a parent or monogamous; his treatment of the dog is a mirror of how he feels about everything – including himself: disposable. On the other hand, Marlowe’s cat might just be the only thing in the film that he treats like a human; or at least the character he treats with the most kindness; in his feline roommate, you see the projection of Marlowe’s own psyche – as the cat emotes, so does he: ‘It’s OK with me’
4: The object of our violence, the projected enemy that justifies our behaviour, the derivative of ancient Babylonian myth, the poor guy who was just looking for something to eat but couldn’t fin it because we humans have abused nature by over-fishing in the deep sea, yes, it’s Bruce from Massachussetts. Perhaps you could say that he needs some training in non-violent conflict resolution; but don’t we all?
3: In his (or her – can anyone tell me the right gender?) first on-screen appearance, Babe was known for little more than apeing his canine colleagues by herding sheep; by the time the (hugely under-rated; no less than the late Gene Siskel called it his favorite film of the year) sequel was released, so much metaphorical resonance was being thrown onto the porker that it wasn’t entirely clear whether director George Miller intended the character as a stand in for Jesus or Eve; maybe both; maybe the pig is supposed to exegete the dual nature of being human – landing as we do somewhere between sacred and profane. Whatever’s going on here, ‘Pig in the City’ is a much more thoughtful film than its marketing or audience suggested; even with the slapstick Mickey Rooney scary clown bits.
2: Youk and Bart the bears in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s ‘The Bear‘. What an incredible film – my own sense of wonder placed on the screen in the form of ursa minor – the cutest man-killer you’ve ever seen in a fully-rounded story of the life cycle; one that makes you want to be nicer to other people because its central character – a bear for goodness’ sake – is already kinder than you are.
1: Now, given that on Tuesdays we only have room for a Top Five, there wasn’t space for me to include other favorite cinematic animal-as-representation-of-the-human-psyche moments, such as Jiminy Cricket as the conscience of a whole generation of American children, Balloo the Bear as the fun uncle we’re all trying to be, Moby-Dick as the superego of a guy too big for his boots, Doug the Dog in ‘Up’ as the expression of what we’d all like our dogs to really be thinking, or the horses in ‘Andrei Rublev’ as a reason to stay alive when cataclysmically depressed: they are, in short, beauty itself.
But for our purposes, and this is probably no surprise to regular readers, the prize has got to go to a mildly neurotic amphibian, for whom holding it together for everyone else is a life’s work, whom we first saw on television, but gets more of a chance to shine in his movies. If every stage show, political party or, dare I say it, film podcast had a Kermit behind the scenes to figure out how to manage being alive, maybe we’d be making music as good as Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem too. More than that: he may be a frog, but HE CAN GO PLACES FAST.
So – anyone got a suggestion for a wiser anthropomorphised movie animal than Kermit?