::: Jim Rovira
Warning: if you haven’t seen the film, this review will spoil most of the surprises.
Park’s recent tour de force, Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, successfully integrates all the major gothic monsters of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into a single hybrid horror: the Were-Rabbit. Park’s film is certainly the most artistically successful satire on the horror genre since Young Frankenstein; if it’s not a bigger box office draw than any of the Scary Movie films, it should be.
The gargantuan Were-Rabbit is the product of Wallace’s unnatural ambition to rid rabbits of the desire for veggies forever (Wallace as Victor Frankenstein learning the cost of tampering with nature). It is also a freakish hybrid between human and rabbit (like The Fly), that changes form under a full moon (like The Werewolf—and there’s overtones of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde here too), and climbs with the film’s idealistic young beauty under arm to the top of her mansion (like King Kong), where he is attacked by planes (very small planes flown by Gromit and a rival dog—they were having a dogfight, of course).
Wallace and Gromit themselves are partners in Anti-Pesto, a humane rabbit-control/vegetable security business that protects locals’ gardens from infestation by hungry, long-eared trespassers. The dynamic duo—and yes, there is a Batman and Robin sequence showing Anti-Pesto at work—compassionately capture and imprison the offending rabbits rather than poisoning or killing them, keeping the offenders well fed but locked in Wallace’s basement. Anti-Pesto, needless to say, is the toast of the town; with Lady Tottington’s annual Biggest Vegetable competition coming up, residents can’t afford to have rabbits tearing up their prize carrots, lettuce, and squash. After clearing a particularly aggressive infestation at the Tottington mansion (during which Wallace becomes quite enamored of Lady Tottington), Wallace gets the idea of transferring his own dislike of vegetables directly to rabbits via a thought control machine.
Naturally, the machine works, but also naturally, there is a horrible accident: Wallace accidentally kicks a control lever from “suck” to “blow” and a rabbit is forced down upon Wallace’s skullcap during the thought transfer. The machine is operated by the light of a full moon; the Were-Rabbit is born. No one knows until the next night, when a massive rabbit on a rampage enters the town’s chapel, frightens the priest, and eats all the vegetables. Wallace and Gromit assume the offender is the rabbit blown down onto the top of Wallace’s head, but over time, Gromit discovers the truth: Wallace himself is the Were-Rabbit, and as Wallace is steadily losing his humanity, steadily growing more like a rabbit, the rabbit himself is growing more like Wallace. The priest, not knowing the Were-Rabbit’s true identity, reveals to Wallace’s rival—and Lady Tottington’s hopeful beau—the secret to killing the Were-Rabbit: it must be shot with a solid gold bullet. Wallace’s rival loves the idea, as he is a hunter and would just as soon have shot all the rabbits to begin with.
Why solid gold? 24 karat.
How do we know Wallace is becoming more and more rabbit-like? We know before he’s grown a pair of rabbit ears, or before we see him thump when he gets excited, or before he scratches his ears with his feet. We know because Wallace starts liking vegetables.
To understand the significance of this last fact we need to rewind to the beginning of the film. Wallace is getting fat. Gromit has him on a diet. Wallace, waking up hoping for a nice English breakfast, is served a plate of celery, carrots, and cauliflower, and Wallace not only resents Gromit’s considerate but cruel intervention on his behalf, but rather deceptively works around it to gorge himself on . . . you know it . . . cheeeeeese.
This seemingly innocuous detail—Wallace on a diet and forced to eat only vegetables—isn’t just one more comic device to drive along the plot. It is the heart of the film. Wallace originally intended his mind-transformation device to cure him of the desire for unhealthy foods, makingthe film’s object of critique not the unnatural combination of man and rabbit, but the unnatural separation of man from cow products. And not just from all cow products, but from all meats. Yes, rabbits are vegetarians, but people aren’t rabbits.
Victor Frankenstein sought to purge death from the human race and created an inhuman monster in the process, the horror of the monster representing the horror of a deathlessly inhuman human race. Similarly, Wallace’s transformation into the Were-Rabbit is a mere exaggeration of what would happen to him should he allow his diet to determine his appetite. A vegetarian Wallace, and by extension a vegetarian human race, is as perverse and unnatural as a rabbit/human hybrid. To rid ourselves of meat and dairy is to rid ourselves of some of our humanity.
So Park’s Curse of the Were Rabbit is born from and reflects the anxiety of a steak lover in an increasingly vegetarian society. This anxiety is hardly surprising. The more we learn about meats the more we fear them: mad cow disease, hormone injections, methane pollution from cattle causing lung problems and contributing to global warming, unsanitary living conditions for livestock, bird flu, high cholesterol, obesity, and a host of other fears and guilts all contribute to anxiety about meat.
But our anxiety about meat goes beyond mere health concerns. For us to eat a cow, someone needs to kill a cow. Every slice of meat, therefore, symbolizes residual societal violence, and societally—at least in the West, it would seem—our values are slowly moving toward non-violence. Our hunger for meat is a sign of our aggression or a remnant of the aggression of our forefathers. We distance ourselves by hiring people to do our killing for us, but the killing is still there and we know it. People do our killing for us at the deli and in wartime. Most of us never know the real cost of eating a steak or waging a war.
Now if you think I’ve strayed far from the film at this point, think again. Lady Tottington is attracted to Wallace and resists her hunter-beau because Wallace found a nonviolent solution to the town’s rabbit problem. The juxtapositions of violence/non-violence, meat eating/vegetarianism, aggression/non-aggression are all focused on Wallace’s desire for meat but unwillingness to kill rabbits. Taken to an extreme, this denial of human aggression ultimately turns a human being into a rabbit; a large, veggie eating, benign rabbit.
The emotional core of The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, therefore, is not only a fear of vegetarianism, a fear of the loss of meat in our diet, but a fear of the loss of aggression: if we become entirely passive creatures, are we still human?
I don’t think so. To protect myself from such a horrible fate, I think I’ll go eat those steaks I just finished cooking. I think somehow they’d be even better if I’d hunted, killed, skinned, and cleaned the animal myself.