Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Digging deeper into Peter and the Wolf - Big spoilers ahead!!!

Well, not for the story obviously, I guess most of us are familiar with it in some form already. But I'm giving my reading of some of the subtle and powerful undertones Ms. Templeton has layered in this beautiful little film for us to ferret out through multiple viewings, feeling the pieces click together as we work like a jigsaw puzzle. And that's what makes it so deeply satisfying, the fact that they DO click together, and everything fits.

Guess I'd better explain.....

I already mentioned that the wolf is Peter's dark doppleganger, representing his wild and dangerous side, and in fact I also had a sneakin' suspicion the other animals represented various aspects of his psyche (or grandpa's) as well. Now I know they do. And it's quite clear from her deft handling of the various elements that Suzie did this knowingly. Sometimes when I watch a film and start to get that tingle that says "Yes.... this character is a double for that one", or "The horse represents the little girl's yearning for a father figure" or whatever (because I always want to find these connections whether they're actually there or not) it turns out just to be a coincidence, or something that maybe the writer or director stuck in briefly and then dropped, not following up to make it complete. But this time I was delighted to find my reading borne out subtlely and effectively all the way through!

Now it could be this comes from the original folk tale itself... I'm not all that familiar with it though I did have a record that I used to listen to as a child and was quite fond of. I hardly remember it though. More likely actually Suzie has just tapped into the pseudo-Freudian nature of folk tales, where ogres, witches and wolves actually were used to represent various parts of the characters' psyches. What I love is the fact that she did it so subtlely, so that the film totally works without understanding this level, AND for those of us who discover it, it adds a brilliant new layer of meaning to it. Ok, here's my breakdown....

The duck is Peter's childish innocence. It's all dreamy and drowsy, always just sort of standing there swaying its head gently as if in the breeze, or like it's about to nod off. It seems quite helpless, and must constantly be rescued from its own clumsiness. In fact, tellingly, it begins the story trapped (along with Peter) inside the monstrous enclosure of Grandpa's prisonlike wall, designed to protect them from the wolves roaming the forest. It accompanies him wherever he goes, and does a lot of just standing there watching and waiting to be picked up and carried around.

The incredibly fat cat is the double for grandpa, I suppose representing his somewhat overzealous watchfulness and overprotectiveness of Peter (and of the animals that represent his various parts). It's first seen sleeping alongside dear old granddad, its hair and his beard tangled together, almost as if it has grown from it like some godling from the great beard of Zeus. It's a mischeif-maker, arrogant and proud to a fault, and it causes no end of grief for our band of funseekers, but when it all hits the fan, we feel sympathy for this fat cat and don't want to see it get chomped because it's a part of the family.

The lame bird is Peter's sense of soaring adventure. It first appears by gliding in from over the wall, from the great dark forest. See, inside the enclosure is domesticity, security and... well - boredom for a little boy who needs to run and play. He's always stifled by this great huge wall, cobbled together from bits and pieces of timber and corrugated metal and car hoods and pieces of sheet tin all nailed together into a crazy fence twice as tall as the boy. He finds the occasional cubbyhole where he can peel back a bit of material and peer out at the inviting meadow and the foreboding forest beyond it, which beckons strongly. So it's totally fitting that his sense of adventure should arrive from the forest itself, tumbling in wounded and unable to stretch its wings and fly.

And so fitting that the wolf gobbles up the duck in one gigantic swallow, at a stroke destroying forever his childish innocence at the very moment his darkness and aggression first begin to stir. Then it terrorizes and attempts to devour the other animals and Peter himself, like some great raging monster from the Id. I began to notice the ways in which she demonstrated their symbiosis (Peter and the wolf's that is) and the careful balance they must maintain in order for one not to overwhelm and destroy the other.... The wolf has a truly menacing gaze, but Peter has one to match, and when they first lock eyes they stare each other down for a long time, tension flowing between them. And the action around the great twisted tree where the climactic struggle takes place, with Peter and the wolf tethered together by a rope strung way up over a high branch and them each dangling beneath it like yo-yos, responding to each other's every move.... a perfect metaphor for their power struggle! It's only broken through Peter's foresight and clever action when he manages to reach a net and throw it over the wolf, entanfgling and entrapping it. then Grandpa arrives on the scene with his trusty rifle held in shaking hands, obviosuly unable to shoot accurately. this is the moment when Peter takes control... when he becomes the man of the house and masters his own darkness all at once with one simple gesture. He gently takes the gun from Grandpa. And we don't know it for some time, but he doesn't use it. Instead he cages the wolf and takes it into town to display it, his own dark soul alive and wild, beside the stuffed and mounted bears of the great bear hunter. This is a poignant scene, and really drives home the idea that Peter has managed to come to terms with his inner darkness rather than destroy it or hide from it as so many do.

At this moment, tellingly, the bird appears, now healed fully and wildly looping and soaring in graceful acrobatics overhead. So at this point his innocence is dead, but his sense of adventure is alive like never before, able at last to fly and soar like it should, and his darkness is caged. And then he releases it... right there in front of everyone, and again he and the wolf lock eyes, but this time without any menace, just a telepathic symbiosis flowing between them one last time before they stride together through the astonished crowd to the edge of the village where the wolf lopes back out into the dark primeval forest and the boy stands, once cowed and clumsy, now free and proud.

Sorry if I went a little deep (I tend to do that if you haven't noticed yet!) but it's just that, once I discovered this hidden dimension to the film, I understood why it appeals to me so powerfully, and it also lent the ending a resounding poignancy that I felt before but was unable to explain coherently.


Ubatuber said...

This film sounds fantastic, thanks for the exploration :) I love love love Templeton's 'Stanley'....symbols can be tricky business, I'm learning, as I try to (re)work out the details of 'Jenny Greenteeth'...subtlety is definitely key, I don't want to beat the audience to death with the metaphor, y'know? Sounds like Suzie did a bang-up job, can't wait to see it.......when can I come over? :)

Darkstrider said...

Hey, feel free to stop by anytime! We'll veg out and watch my entire stopmo collection and talk shop. But you gotta bring Nola along. ;)

I kinda wish I hadn't posted all the spoilers.... it might diminish the experience for those who haven't seen it yet. In fact I almost posted this whole thing as a comment under the last entry, but it locked up my computer when I tried, so I decided that was a sign that it wanted to be posted as a new entry.

Robert Glassman said...

Has anyone ever speculated that the wolf is Nazi Germany, the duck is Poland, the bird and cat are Great Britain and France, the hunters are the Red Army, Peter is the Soviet People and Grandpa is Stalin? It works, no?