As a complete aside to the things that usually inspire me to write – or is it – I feel suddenly lead to share that I went to see ‘The Croods’ movie this week with my daughter (her choice, and what turns out to be a good one) and found it surprisingly thought-provoking, although kids’ cinema seems to do that a lot these days. And hold on, before you ‘dump’ this post for being about kid-stuff – keep reading; this is actually about you, me…all of us!
This is a movie that really started to grab my attention when Grug, the patriarch of this cave-dwelling family group, asserted what was to become his catch-line for two thirds of the film: “Fear keeps us alive! Never not be afraid”. It hit me right between the eyes that this wasn’t just his line, it’s the mantra for the whole of our culture, as it has been (and largely continues to be) since the very times that we actually did live in caves for fear of being eaten by bears or sabre-toothed cat-things. Was this movie parodying our forebears or, really, our ongoing culture? Time to sit up and take notice.
I quickly warmed to its feisty female, Eep, who has a refreshing amount of meat on her bones compared to the typical emaciated Disney heroine – her most satisfying line, in response to the observation “You’re really heavy” being the retort “I am? Thank you!” (teenage daughter, take note). While the rest of her family follow dad’s rules and stay almost exclusively in the cave, she displays a refreshing propensity to flout ‘danger’ and head towards ‘the light’ at every opportunity, much to Grug’s dismay, and so this developing theme of ‘heading towards light’ (if you know me at all, you’ll know that’s my thing) was another way that this film caught my attention very early on.
Absolutely central to the story is a theme of living on the very brink of the dawning of a new era – a very blatant parallel with where we are right now – something that is varyingly portrayed as all doom, gloom and the end of all things or the very birth of an imagined paradise known as ‘Tomorrow’, depending on which character’s version you decide to subscribe to. This, of course, all boils down to that all-important matter of the interpretation of the very same signs and clues, as events unfold, that are available to all – and so the film even touches on the topic that perception is everything and has the power to transmute our world. At the beginning, this family acts out an exaggerated parody of the oh-so familiar knee-jerk reaction of anything new being set-upon and torn apart (or, in their case, smashed to smithereens) by the group for fear of allowing anything unfamiliar to come into their experience just in case it poses a threat of any kind – a way of being that had been sustained in their world by a vice-like grip upon always doing things ‘the way they have always been done’ long past the point of knowing why those things were done in the first place. (I should add, I found myself chuckling wryly at several of these cultural observations,which were way over the head of the younger kids in the audience, although my daughter was with me all the way.) By the end of the film, there is an acknowledgement that it was the long – and unnecessary – adherence to these rules that had kept them so firmly holed-away in their world of darkness but, at the start, keeping to the rules is seen as tantamount to their very survival, the very preservation of the metaphorical walls and ceilings of the only world they have ever know. Hmmm, sound familiar?
These people have lived in the dark for so long that they know of no other way of being and so as soon as their old cave is destroyed, Grug’s instinctive response is “we need to find a cave” (that classic human instinct to replace one ‘broken’ thing with more of the same…rather than grabbing the opportunity to try or create something different) and this is in spite of the fact a new and fantastical world of colour and light had now opened up before their eyes, appearing out of the very dust and rubble of the old. Just goes to show that holding onto the rules can seem more concrete, when living from a place of fear, than even the most marvellous new reality that presents itself to the senses, if that new reality is something never encountered before…It only begins to dawn on Grug that there might be another way after he has spent some considerable time in the company of the young man who joins the group, Guy, whose observation about their old way of living is “that’s not living, it’s just not dying – there is a difference”. In this single observation, I perceived a pivot-point for the whole of this movie’s message – a message that is aiming straight to the heart of the very youngsters who will come to watch it, in the hope they will grow up to shake off the sad truism of our times; the fact that, long past the days of cave-dwelling and sabre-toothed predators, so many lives are still being experienced from a place of (perceived) ‘real and present danger’, from the restricted vantage point of a ‘safe (small, dark, restrictive...) cave’ of familiarity, from which standpoint they remain largely unaware – possibly even uncaring – that just beyond their own self-limited world is a vista of such colour and vibrancy that all it would take is the courage to step forwards into the light for the whole life-experience to undergo utter transformation.
“What’s the point of all this?” somebody asks in the film. “To follow the light” is the simple response – and that simple goal, without having to know what lies ahead, without needing any more than to exist in the now, acknowledging the light and the fact that its use as a guide is enough to live by in a way that is blessed and expansive, be-ing all that you are capable of being in each moment, expressing love and joy along the way – this is ultimately the movie’s message. Once they allow themselves to let go of the ‘rules’, the Croods are literally astounded by what unfolds before them and of particular note is their reaction to the full spectacle of the night sky and all its stars, a magnificence that had been right outside the cave door all along yet which had completely eluded them throughout all the years that they had held rigidly to the rule that they must be indoors by sunset. These people are in search of an actual place yet their biggest discovery is the fact that, when living in this new way, everything else takes care of itself and things just seem to have an easy and effortless tendency to ‘work out’. By the end of the movie, simply living in the light becomes enough for each and every one of them – and so there are no more caves, no more hiding. As credits start to roll, we leave this – newly extended – family group (it now includes Guy and a small menagerie of other creatures) in a ‘place’ so transformed, so expansive, radiant and joy-filled that it is quite another world to the one we found them in at the start. I certainly want to join them, don’t you? Importantly, wouldn’t any child?
So, again, why am I going to such lengths to review a kid’s film? Well, because it heartened me immeasurably to detect that – wrapped up in the very fibres of this ‘kid plot’ – was the substance of something much more fundamental than just a ripping yarn about cavemen going on an adventure. This plot has more than a touch of something epic lurking just beneath its surface and this is because it hints at being a universal story – or more exactly, the story of US.
For too long, it seems, we’ve been aware of, hypothesised about and yet still not managed to shake ourselves free of the shackles of an ancient, deep-rooted, subconscious ‘old’ level of fear that has been part of the human psyche since the very days of cave-dwelling. It’s the fear that still tells us we live in a world of lack, of separation, of survival of the fittest, of cut-throat competition and dog-eat-dog, a fear that makes us terrified of change, of upheaval, of something new even when that something looks better than what we had before. It’s that persistently-present germ of fear that’s lodged in the amygdala, that ‘original’ part of the human brain that sends us spiralling into fight-or-flight responses the moment our vista broadens into something more expansive than we are used to, so keeping us utterly rooted in the dark recesses of familiarity that might as well be a cave, or else yo-yoing back and forth in the wastelands of stress and tattered health as a result of endlessly feeling pushed (or that we must push ourselves) outside of our perceived comfort zone to survive. So when did that comfort zone get decided upon and what man-made boundary demarcates and so defines all the ‘other stuff’ that stands outside; at what stage of human evolution was all this programmed into us (when we lived in caves and in fear of our lives, I suspect) – and is it time to step outside of the cave walls of our own mentality and into a world of light and expansiveness, into a place where we will be amazed by just how expansive and unfettered we really are?
Yes, these are auspicious times and, in some sense, it’s as though we’re standing at the cave door, blinking in the light and wondering, just wondering, what it might be like out there. Many of us are beginning to grasp just how expansive we really are, what we are really capable of, and yet it can still be three step forwards, two steps back while we remain hardwired to keep dragging ourselves ‘in’ towards a more contracted, limited version of what we really are, like Eep being called reluctantly back to the cave at the end of the day, and all because its deemed to be the ‘safer’ option. Yet while the slow and steady conditioning of our kids through our parenting, our stories and our media continues to sow the perpetual crop into the soil of our culture that familiarity is a place, a safe haven, that we need to crawl back to when the going gets tough, there will always be a kind of comfort to be found in doing just that and this is one of the main reasons this pattern has been perpetuated for so very long (and very long indeed after it continued to be a daily prerequisite for survival). The way past this, in the words of Neale Donald Walsh, is to ‘rewrite our cultural story’; to tell our story differently, with a new ending, loads more light and an almighty embrace of expansiveness, adventure and the shaking off of all rules, all limitations and, most of all, fear. And where do we begin this task of getting a new story into the very psyche of our culture? Well, with our kids of course and, on that front – “good job”, The Croods; let the seeds of a new story be planted and what better medium than through our cinema screens.
“Then let us rewrite our entire Cultural Story, word by word, piece by piece, chapter by chapter, dismantling one false belief at a time — until we get to the ultimate false belief that has created all the others: The idea that we are somehow separate from each other, each with our own separate interests, when, in fact, our growing global inter-dependency is increasingly obvious even to the casual observer.” Neale Donald Walsch