Saturday, May 22, 2010

Some Quickly Muddled Thoughts on Not Slaying Dragons

How to Train Your Dragon is a fun mess of a message movie.

Surprisingly enough, HtTYD is about the dominion mandate.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth."

Dominion does not mean killing things (though it doesn't exclude it). Dominion means ruling with authority. And in the immediate context of being made in the Image of God, it means ruling with authority in love.

In such a way that even the deadliest of dragons is under the authority of King Man.

The problem I have with HtTYD, as a fun-spoiling adult, is that the dragons become too cute and cuddly. They are subdued much too easily. By the end of the film, we're asked to forget that sometimes a dragon is just a dragon and wants to kill things at the same time that we get the satisfaction of killing a giant dragon.

I think I'd be okay with young children watching this as long as it was played as a double feature with Grizzly Man.

(That's a joke.)

In "real life," it is possible to tame dragons/serpents/grizzlies, but the enormous difficulty of this task shouldn't be glossed over.

(I'm probably being inconsistent here because I still love Nausicaa and her bug charming ways. But there's a different tone in Nausicaa and it is stressed that she is extraordinary in her talents and gentle understanding even as she leads her people to a greater understanding. I think that it's HtTYD that is inconsistent and not me, but maybe I'm wrong.)

There's a scene toward the end in which Hiccup is supposed to kill a dragon in the arena and instead puts down his weapons and approaches the dragon with outstretched hand. I wanted so badly for the dragon to eat Hiccup and for the credits to roll. But, that's a different movie.

Minor gripes aside, the reason this film works at all is because it works hard to reinforce creative dominion through love.

You can easily get a dog to lie down by shooting it in the head. Bravo! You've subdued that beast! This is the sort of biological/ecological dominion practice that the West at its worst has been guilty of. But no king lasts long on the throne by killing all of his subjects.

The "green" movement is to be praised in recognizing that we have responsibility for a living kingdom. Green folks err whenever they insist that we abdicate responsibility and get out of Nature's way. Not ruling at all is not a proper alternative to poor rule. The obvious (but difficult) task before us is ruling well.

Back to the dog example, we properly exercise authority by working to have Fido lie down in obedience to a verbal command. Not by beating him to a pulp or by leaving him to do as he pleases when he pleases.

I've got a rooster (the closest thing to a dragon in Nanticoke) that I respect. I like him. Sometimes I have to kick the sorry bastard for his own good. He needs to learn that it is not ever okay to attack human children. He's walking a fine line between head of the henhouse and headless on the butcher's block. I like him. I'll like him in a different way roasted.

I don't know why I brought up the rooster. Maybe because it's important to kick him and possibly having to kill him. Even more so, it's important to not kick him the large majority of the time and let him be about his proper business as a rooster. A rooster is a rooster. Let it be so.

A dragon is a dragon.

The strange part of HtTYD is that it works so hard to establish that dragons are just misunderstood puppies, then ends with a climactic fight against a larger dragon. Hiccup does not try tickling this dragon into submission. He never engages it in love or respect. Based on everything that has come before, why not?

Why are we asked to hate this dragon after we've learned to love all the other dragons? Simply because it's bigger? This dragon somehow has evil instincts that the other dragons lack? Why do the other dragons hang around this large dragon? Why is there only one large dragon? Is it an essential part of their ecosystem? How do they later function outside of their nest as pets in a village?

HtTYD falls apart.

(This is another place in which Nausicaa is more consistent and far superior in its insistence on embracing the ugliest and worst of bug creatures and also having a developed logic behind its natural world.)

I know I'm being a killjoy, but HtTYD's fun is marred for me by its mixed messages and failure to seriously engage with its own themes. I had fun with HtTYD, but for the long run I'll stick with Nausicaa and Grizzly Man.

1 comment:

Psalms w guitar said...

John, I really needed to read your review as well as Nathan’s. The cartoon world that is created is extremely unrealistic and surreal. This compared to Ratatouille which has much more realism in it.

In short, it is a fairytale. Fairytales drive home one point and often at the expense of the balance that really exists in life. I think I will take this opportunity to explain to my children not to stick your hand out any dog that comes along.

On the flip side, the big plus of this fairytale is what it does for your imagination if you're a little kid. Imagine riding a dragon! And not just any Dragon, but a really fast one! I've tied in with my kids to “imagine riding a lion!” And not just any lion, but the one who rules it all!

Another interesting slant: the dragons are people that need to be delivered from Satan. Hiccup and toothless preach the gospel.