– by guest contributor John Michael Trowbridge
“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?”
A fantastically put question of a fantastic Fox in a fantastic movie. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is not just a heartwarming story of animals and survival, nor is it just another Ronald Dahl book turned movie (is there ever “just another” one of those?). For me, it’s a mirror… and a warning.
Ever since the beginning of time, we have continually asked ourselves “Who am I?” Contrary to some black coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking types (who feel that the whole world turned into a bunch of pansies when we started musing about the meaning of life) our world actually went downhill when we questioned God’s definition of who we ought to be.
“…the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” – Genesis 3:4-5
Theologians have pointed out for centuries that the main temptation our first parents fell pray to was not “to eat or not to eat”, but rather, “You can be like God.” A dissatisfaction with ourselves, and the temptation to enjoy the benefits of a higher, more god-like state, is what drives humans to our doom – and apparently foxes too.
Mr. Fox: “I don’t want to live in a hole anymore. It makes me feel poor.”
Mrs. Fox: “We are poor, but we’re happy!”
Foxey: “Comme ci comme ça.” (So so.)
As I watched Foxey bamboozle, steal, trick, and essentially violate the farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadistic glee. Here’s a fellow who knows what he wants, takes it, and enriches himself in the process. But the more I watched, the more the film revealed to me the realities of such selfish ambition. A home is destroyed, a family is in turmoil, and in the words of Badger “A lot of good animals are probably going to die because of you!”
Even Mrs. Fox has to admit, “I love you. But I shouldn’t have married you.”
Which brings us back to the question Mr. Fox poses at the beginning. Who is he? Why shouldn’t Mrs. Fox have married such an animal? The title implies he’s rather fantastic. As the movie unfolds, it’s clear that Foxey isn’t so much interested in having a lot of food so much as he is about winning. Living in a tree isn’t about living more comfortably as it is about feeling good about himself:
“I think I have this thing where everybody has to think I’m the greatest, the quote-unquote “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” And if they aren’t completely knocked out and dazzled and slightly intimidated by me, I don’t feel good about myself.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has Mr. Fox’s problem. I want everyone to be wowed, intimidated, or enthralled with me. I need outer applause for a good performance. Basically, I need satisfaction within my soul of other’s worship: I need to be someone else’s god. I’m not saying they build a shrine for a lowly fellow such as myself (though I probably wouldn’t stop them either) but whenever people see me, I want them to recognize their standing of “uncool” next to “super cool” Me. That may seem prideful and make me sound much like a jerk.
That’s because it is, and I am.
But I rarely see this myself. Even in spite of all he’s done, the counsel he receives, and the disaster that comes from his actions, Mr. Fox still resorts to stealing and outwitting Boggis, Bunce, and Bean in order to wiggle himself out of his mess. “We took everything!” he exclaims. Which, surprisingly enough, makes my thoughts turn to Mr. Fox’s son, Ash.
Constantly trying to gain approval from his father, Ash is all about performance… just like his father. In an attempt to steal back his Dad’s tail, his cousin is kidnapped. In an attempt to become as good an athlete, he takes credit for someone else’s work. In an attempt to rescue his cousin, he does almost more harm than good. Personally, if I can relate to anyone, it’s Ash… “always striving, but never coming to the knowledge of the truth.” I want to perform, yet mostly suck at it.
What really sucks? The very thing that gets Mr. Fox, Ash, myself, and maybe you into such a mess – our insatiable need to perform in order to gain approval – becomes the very thing we think will get us out of it: “I feel bad for not performing well enough… maybe I’ll perform some more!”
To put another way, self-worship, or “becoming like God”, is our disease… so we, as naturally wild animals, believe the one thing that will cure us… is more self worship. The Apostle Paul may well have been speaking of us when he said “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Scripture records that Jesus was the only one in history who perfectly performed. Christ is little like Kristofferson in this film: the athlete, diver, and amazing whackbat player we could never be. What strikes me as interesting is that whenever Ash tells Kylie that the trophy his cousin Kristofferson won for being a perfect athlete was “Just a trophy I won for being an athlete,” Kristofferson doesn’t interject. The award Kristopherson rightfully won is attributed to Ash, who deserves it least.
Likewise, Christians are given the gift of Christ’s righteousness. Because of his finished work on the cross, we can stand before our Father in heaven with new and clean garments, (a much better bandit hat), being told, “Well done, my Good and Faithful Servant” (or perhaps “Ash, you’re an athlete”).
We can come to our heavenly Father, out of our hole and into a new home, not based on our performance, but solely on Christ’s work on our behalf. Because he resisted the temptation to have all his heart could desire (unlike Mr. Fox), he was rewarded by his Father with all the earth. If we live for Him instead of ourselves, he provides that home. Question is: are we humble enough to receive it?
Mrs. Fox: This story’s too predictable.
Mr. Fox: Predictable? Really? Then, how does it end?
Mrs. Fox: In the end, we all die. Unless you change.