So, as I am sitting home alone on Friday night (as I often like to do) watching “March of the Penguins” for the first time since I bought it on the curb of a Chinatown bakery nearly 2 years ago, I am wondering what the fuck is up with this movie? Yes, that does sound a little harsh for a lovely little film about the romantic life of a penguin, but don’t worry – I’ll explain.
My issue is really to do with the interpretation of an bird’s life through the ever present human lens, as well as the inconsistency of nature as a explanation, and human characteristics as an explanation.
We begin by hearing about the harsh climate of Antartica – the ways in which is has changed over millions of years, what it is like now, and what the inhabitants (the penguins) have achieved through evolution in order to withstand the climate. However, at the same time, the film is from a distance and we see black, shadowing figures walking accross the ice as we hear the story of a tribe that “chose” to stay through the continental changes. Someone tell me at what point in evolution do animals make concious decisions to live or die, to adapt or to starve?
Then we watch as the penguins make the long and arduous journey to the breeding grounds where they choose a mate. The love story, as the film very intentionally is painting, is for a single season where two penguins choose to mate only with eachother. Perhaps this single-season monogamy is part of the reason penguins make a good film subject – because who doesn’t like a nuclear family. We see long, drawn out scenes of affection between the “couples” (not pairs, because that wouldn’t be romantic) in preparation for their upcoming creation of offspring. In this, we interpret the steps leading up to procreation through the fantasy human lens of love and affection in order to create life. Of course, who am I to say that those penguins aren’t madly in love? But who is to say they are? Perhaps they are simply becoming accustomed to smell so that they can find the right bird to pass the egg to? Or maybe they want to know who to find when the child support cheque bounces? Who knows.
Later, we see a dramatic scene of a leopard seal eating a momma penguin. Morgan Freeman is clear that not only has that evil seal stolen the life of the mother, but also of the unborn child because she cannot return with food to regurgitate. Can you say pro-life ad anyone? You might as well give that seal a lab coat and call him dr. abortion!
I just wonder, where is the nature? Why is the seal evil for eating the penguin, but no one is concerned with the little babies of those fish that penguin was eating? I guess that wouldn’t make a very good movie though would it.
Really, I don’t care whether the penguins love eachother or not. What I am interested in is why we need to understand nature only as a smaller version of ourselves. Why can we not appreciate things as different than us instead of only as extensions of ourselves?
Of course I know the answer. We need to “other” in order to explain. We can only define what we are in relation to what we are not. Apparently, we are not leopard seals.