Sunday, November 24, 2013

To be fantastic

Wes Anderson's 2009 animated movie adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Fantastic Mr. Fox, is good. There are significant changes from Dahl's original story. I haven't decided the movie's social ethical lesson. There may not be an affirmative social ethical message to the movie.

Rather, Anderson's version of Mr. Fox's story is most like a red-pill parable about unchaining vigorous or "wild" masculinity from civilized, emasculating domesticity while still affirming the importance of dyadic love and family, reminiscent of Sam Shakusky's story in Andersons's 2012 Moonrise Kingdom. Like Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox applies a red-pill take on complementary gender relations. Mrs. Fox is tough, capable, and keeps up with her dynamic man like Suzy Bishop, and also like Suzy, she stays firm within her dyadic feminine role and faithfully follows her mate's masculine lead.

The red-pill lesson of Anderson's telling is masculine actualization requires a man to slip the safe tethers of civilized life, reject the known conventional path, step off into the unknown, and court risk, danger, and fear.

Since Foxy retired as a thief at his wife's behest, he has been a columnist for a small newspaper; however, he doubts anyone reads his words. Foxy understands that masculine actualization can only come through active praxis, not passive talk. Restless, his essential need to unite with his inner free, wild wolf overcomes his civilized fear of the wolf.

Foxy rejects the ordinary life that's been imposed on him, switches from object to subject, and sets out to reshape his world to his will. When he decides imprudently to buy a home above ground against his wife's warning that foxes live underground for a reason, Foxy deliberately sets in motion his rise as a man.

On the flip side of taking the nonconformist, unconventional, unsafe way are reasonable doubt from others and paralyzing self-doubt. Other people know what is known while the aspiring man doesn't - and can't - know what is unknown until the truth is discovered out there. He will be opposed in his journey, and they may be right. He may be wrong. He may fail and suffer for his pride.

Felicity believes her tamed husband has become reckless and she's right; Foxy is indeed a husband and father with a vital responsibility to his family. Foxy breaks his promise to Felicity to stop stealing, in spite of her contentment with conventional family life, and endangers his family and community so that he can be "fantastic" again. Defying Felicity in order to revive his "wild" masculinity reminds of Rocky's response to Adrian nagging him not to box again in Rocky II: "Adrian, I never asked you to stop being a woman, so please, please don't ask me to stop being a man. Please."

In other words, Foxy is fantastically selfish. While he shows a conscience and expresses reflective doubts, he continues to act impulsively with a near-sociopathic disregard for the dangers he thrusts onto others and harm he causes. The unretired thief not only violates social norms to do what he wants, he breaks his own rules, such as when he looks the rabid beagle, Spitz, in the eyes. Wanting, taking, and defying limits are requirements for a man to go his own way.

In the dancing finale, Foxy has reconciled "fantastic" vigorous manhood with "glowing" responsible fatherhood, but the cost to his family, the animal community, and human community for Foxy's personal development is great. The only saving grace is the lives lost to pay for his self-centered quest are limited to fierce yet cider-addicted, crazy Rat (the stolen chickens were destined to become food either way), though not due to greater care by Foxy. His friends and family risk their lives on his behalf and almost lose them. The other animals volunteer as decoys and survive a barrage by snipers. His nephew Kristofferson was captured and should have been killed. His son Ash ran through a torrent of bullets to save the rescue party at Bean's compound. The movie ends without a promise of a happily ever after ending. The animals remain under siege, trapped in the sewer, and are starving when Foxy breaks into the supermarket. Since the supermarket is owned by Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, and the animal marauders don't take care to hide their theft, the animal-human war brought on by Foxy only promises to widen. Foxy has dampened the crisis for the moment, not solved the crisis he brought on.

Throughout the movie, Foxy charges headlong into risk relying on his burglar's quick mind, skills, and athleticism, and comes through his trials with no more personal injury than his shot off, chewed up tail that he pins back onto his pants. After a moment of self-sacrifice to end the crisis (or does his sawing through the sewer bars show that he was actually running away?), he chooses instead to lead everyone in a dangerous gamble rather than surrender himself. For Foxy, charisma and swashbuckling verve seem to be enough to escape blame. He effortlessly draws Kylie and others into his schemes and routinely overrides the conventionally alpha, jealous, but equally overawed Badger. Despite the widespread harm he's caused, the natural alpha Foxy is apparently forgiven after his charming appeal to the "wild" nature of his friends and family and the stop gaps he achieves by involving them all successfully in the inflammatory, risky missions to empty the human antagonists' warehouses and rescue Kristofferson.

Like Sam Shakusky, Foxy radically alters his world in order to fix his dissatisfaction. Like Sam, Foxy proves he has the right stuff. Unlike Sam's reification, it's not clear Foxy has changed his world for the better, and he expresses lingering doubts in his last newspaper column. But as always, Foxy doesn't allow any doubts to stop him from going his own way.

Wes Anderson, upholding the theme of vigorous masculinity balanced by dyadic love and family, hints a warning that a thin line separates talented, compulsive Foxy from his near-equal in electric, thin and hungry (or thirsty in his case) Rat. As young men, the two were on the same side as colleagues, respectful rivals, or perhaps even partners in crime. The chief difference separating them in middle age is Foxy has been grounded by his family. Foxy defies his family responsibilities to pursue his passion, but his family ties save him from falling to Rat's bachelor fate, lost in himself, swallowed by his selfish appetites. Foxy achieves a happy life balance with his wife and son by his side, while lonely Rat dies as he lived.

Moral of the story: A red-pill man strives to be extraordinary and reshape the world. His vision is to be invented. The world will resist him, and his selfish quest carries a price that more than he may pay. Risk, doubt, and fear are unavoidable, and he will break through to extraordinary manhood only by overcoming discouraging setbacks. A man cannot know whether he is extraordinary merely by talking about it. To find out, he must gamble to reify his will through praxis. He can't allow others to hold him back from his mission, but he also can't succeed alone. If he proves to be only ordinary, then he will pay the penalty for daring beyond his limitations. But if the truth is he is an extraordinary man, then he might ultimately succeed to be fantastic.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
-President Theodore Roosevelt, from "The Man In The Arena", Sorbonne, Paris, France, April 23, 1910




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