Tuesday, February 08, 2011
On the surface, it seems like an innocent prototypical children's cartoon where the underdog hero (Po, the fat lazy Panda pictured above) overcomes obstacles and his own limitations to beat stereotypical Strong Bad Guy.
However, a closer look reveals the movie to be a war of ideology. That is, East vs. West. More specifically, war of religions: Buddhism (reality is false, just "believe" in yourself and you can overcome the illusion of reality) vs. Judeo-Christianity (Man is Fallen/broken in need of God).
The philosopher Zizek summarizes the message of the film as "“There is no special ingredient (to life). It’s only you. To make something special you just have to believe it’s special.”
While the lines that lend credence to this are numerous in the film, the basic idea of what I argue can be seen in one example....
In the following scene, which is the climax of the film we will see the tiger, Tai Lung (the enemy) opening up the Magic Scroll.
As a preface, the Magic Scroll was believed to contain the secrets of the universe and hidden wisdoms. Earlier, Po, who had inherited the scroll, opened it up to find that there was no words on the words but rather just his own reflection on the shiny scroll itself. Essentially, the "wordless" scroll was saying the secret ingredient to life is within you (As in the secret of reality was already within Po as he saw himself in the scroll). Po, accepts this wisdom and goes on to become the Dragon Warrior....
(One need to only watch the first 2:30 to see enough to understand my further analysis below)-
The scene speaks volumes to me....
And if one considers the Scroll equivalent to the Bible or any sacred text..the Secret Scroll in the scene is essentially declaring that there is no such thing as a sacred text. The only thing that is sacred is the individual themselves....if only they believe in themselves. Or to go one step further, it is saying that the only reason the Bible or other writings are sacred is because they are believed to be sacred.
We then see the Tiger get upset as the lack of message within the scroll (because he was believing the Word within the scroll would help him). Notice too that when the tiger opens up the scroll and sees his reflection, he says "it's nothing!" Is this not a jab at the Christian faith which says man is nothing without God and he needs the Word to sustain him? Thus when the tiger says "it's nothing," the movie is saying that when an individual relies on something outside himself for belief, his value is nothing. At such a rage in realization, the fight continues right after Po says "there is no secret ingredient."
Subjective Speculation: At the 1:35 mark in the video do we have an allegorical jab at Christianity wherein Panda's shooting the Tiger up into the heaven's to the point of disappearing in the sky (complete with angelic song to accompany the Tiger's ascension) and the Tiger's fall allude to the "false" resurrection of Christ wherein such an ascension never happened and Jesus was just a man (he comes falling back to earth)
The one last piece of note in the scene is when the Tiger calls Po "just a BIG....FAT...PANDA" and Po replies, "I'm not a big, fat, panda. I am the big, fat Panda." The emphasis on Po's line is that he substitutes an "a" with "the" and thus in a way elevates his own being to the point of divinity. Thus, Jesus is not a Messiah, but rather he is the Messiah. Or similarly, if I were to say "I am THE Joel Riley," the allusion would be that I am an egotistical maniac making himself something of myself beyond that of a normal human being.
I am not preaching that we can't watch such films, but I argue that there are always underlying ideological assumptions in films...and many times in those which we think are entirely innocent (such as children's film). I would similarly argue that the message of Kung Fu Panda, is the fallacy of our age wherein we are told to just "Believe in yourself and you can achieve whatever your heart desires."
Posted by Joel Riley at 3:04 PM