Saturday, 5 December 2009

Fantastic Mr Fox (Wes Anderson)

Mid-way through Wes Anderson's highly enjoyable new film of Roald Dahl's classic, Mr Fox (George Clooney) turns to his wife (Meryl Streep) in a moment of apparently earnest contrition, and says, by way of explanation for his outrageous and dangerous behaviour, "I'm a wild animal." "But you're also a husband and a father," she reminds him. At such moments can one possibly fail to be reminded of the shrugged shoulders of Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, excusing his sexual or financial impropriety, "I never said I was a saint!" Mr Fox's curious combination of suave urbanity and occasional ravenous vulgarity seems to encapsulate the precarious position of many of today's clownish world leaders, caught between high tea with dictators and embarassing themselves before the U.N., who justify themselves before their people with an appeal to their sincere aspirations towards "greatness" (and great things, of course, sometimes require great sacrifices . . . ).

It was Ronald Reagan who established the typical postmodern figure of the "teflon president" (later to be imitated by Bush and Berlusconi) whose popularity only improved with his increasing public fallability. Whereas the commentators cataloguing his errors could only come across as stiff and pompously elitist, Reagan's fallability only seemed to make him more human, more lovable even, in the eyes of the electorate. The same is apparently true of Mr Fox: no matter how often his schemes and plans lead them into disaster and misery, the animals continue to accept Fox as an almost Mosaic leader, cheering his toasts as he leads them in doomed flight to the promised land.

Behind the pragmatic insistence of director Wes Anderson (in Sight and Sound) that the choice of American actors for the 'goodies' was purely due to a lack of confidence in writing for British voices (and, hey, animals don't really speak anyway, so why shouldn't they have American accents?), we should nonetheless discern a certain ideological mystification. For though, in truth, it is the animals in the film who are the 'terrorists', their affective position within the film as plucky outsiders corresponds perfectly with the self-presentation of the American state, since September 11th, as a beleagured bastion of freedom, attacked on all sides by almost supernaturally powerful foreign outsiders (and the British accent, of course, has been a stand-in for suspicious alterity since the dawn of sound).

Perhaps, however, The Fantastic Mr Fox goes some way towards deconstructing its own ideology. Far from the erratic, spontaneous personality Mr Fox presents in his sincere confession, the truth lies on the surface. He has, after all, the cunning of a fox. To quote Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, "this appearance of [Berlusconi's] being "just an ordinary guy" should not deceive us: beneath the clownish mask there is a mastery of state power functioning with ruthless efficiency." The fox is always ready to bare its teeth, lunge, and bite.