Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Penguin Theology? - SPOILER warning

*Thinking Theologically about “Happy Feet” (spoiler warning: don't read if you haven't seen the movie)

This occurred to me as I tried to sleep last night, and I set it down now as a way of getting it out of my head so I can concentrate on other work. Traditional Christian theology, as presented to me involves the banishment of chaos by an all-powerful deity who brings order to the world. In the most recent reading for a ministry class, the inherent order present in chaos was discussed, with the theological view that chaos is to be embraced. The reasoning is that every system that survives long term must be adaptable and open to change. A rigidly ordered system that cannot adapt or change will die.

This is visible in the movie, “Happy Feet.” The “different” penguin, Mumble, is shunned by the group. He can’t sing, but he can dance. He’s seen as different - and different is wrong. Mumble, I think, is a force of chaos introduced into an overly rigid system. The leaders of the colony at first reject Mumble, claiming that only strict adherence to a code of behavior and trust in an all-powerful deity/force will save them from certain starvation.

Eventually he is blamed for the dwindling supply of fish which threatens the group’s survival. Mumble decides to find the source of the problem and try to change the situation. He goes on a long journey (a Hero’s journey?), nearly sacrificing himself in the process. He then survives being captured and placed in a zoo, (a dark night of the soul experience?) where he becomes zombie-like and depressed.

Eventually, he snaps out of his coma-like state and begins dancing in response to tapping on the window of his enclosure. This is noticed and an exploration team is sent to investigate the state of the penguin colonies and groups are mobilized to regulate fishing. Mumble gets to dance, and is reunited with his family, friends, and the penguin he loves. I think there's more going on here, but that's all I have time for now.



steve said...

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Meg said...

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megera 78 at hotmail dot com


Mystic Wing said...

In Hindu mythology, Siva is the destructive face of God, lending credibility to your observation that chaos is something that needs to be embraced.

I, too, saw Mumble as something of a savior to a group that had become frozen in time. Perhaps all genuine mystics must be revolutionaries.

YOu have an interesting blog. I'm pleased to have come across it.

Anonymous said...

When I saw "Happy Feet", what struck me was not the liberation of Mumble, but the debasement of the penguin society. Here they have been, for as long as the species has been around, happily singing and doing other penguin things. Now to prevent the destruction of their food supply and habitat, they have to learn to dance and perform for the dominant species of the planet. The survival of the penguins depends on the human interpretation of one of their own behaviors in a species where it is not actually the same thing. In the zoo cage, it is only the recognition by a human child of her own self in Mumble, that brings attention to his malaise. Then the penguins as a whole face a choice between pandering and extinction, and even the elders eventually are compelled to participate. They are grateful to Mumble for finding the solution, but it isn't really them, anymore than singing is him.

I think this point was only the more emphasized by the use of African-American voice and audio actors, whose own cultural heritage has been one of necessary accomodation to the majority, to some extent.

- Mr. Earthbound Spirit, aka The Peanut Gallery.

Earthbound Spirit said...

Interesting point. I hadn't looked at it quite that way (obviously). I wonder -- doesn't life (for all of us) require constant accomodation and adaptation to norms?

Perhaps, more globally, all of sentient life's existence on this planet is dependent on recognizing how connected everything is. That's what I think happened between Mumble and the little girl - yes, she recognized herself in Mumble, but the reverse is also true. Happily, there was a way to sort of communicate.

I'm also not sure the singing was intrinsic to the penguins, or if it had become so through its ritualization by the elders. It's a deeper movie than immediately apparent...