A Marxist Commentary of Chicken Run22 September 2017
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Many people remember the first movie they truly enjoyed as a child, the first movie they really wanted to watch again after the first viewing. For me, this movie was Chicken Run.
Released at the tail end of the year 2000 to widespread critical acclaim and global interest, Chicken Run gave joy and happiness to many young children on the big screen and on VHS cassettes in 48 different countries. While allowing children everywhere the chance to revel in the trials and tribulations of Ginger, Rocky and the rest of their feathered friends as they attempted to escape the farm, one might not catch the subtle-yet-very-present Marxist message of class struggle and organised resistance that this piece introduced to a whole generation of children.
For those unaware of this ground breaking political statement and damning indictment of the capitalist world order, Chicken Run tells the story of a group of chicken workers on a poultry farm who wish for an escape from the brutal working conditions they face. Early in the film they are presented with a way out in the form of ‘Rocky the Flying Rooster’, and while it turns out that he (*spoilers*) cannot actually fly, his failure to provide a means of escape gives the group the motivation needed for their eventual flight from the threat of death, as the farm moves away from the egg business and into chicken pies.
This political awakening, geared at the 4-12 age bracket, finds its foundations at the Tweedy’s farm, the prison in which the domesticated fowl undertake their own form of sedition. The film opens on Ginger, our protagonist on this wild ride through political ideology, attempting escape with her fellow comrades, à la Steve McQueen in The Great Escape (1963). However, these attempts are shown to be truly futile, as, in line with Mr. Tweedy’s war cry, “No chicken escapes from Tweedy’s farm”, no chickens escape from Mr. Tweedy’s farm.
Is Tweedy’s farm representing the capitalist system in which we live? Is it emblematic of the deeply ingrained mind set of capitalism? Is this just a children’s movie?
Furthermore, Chicken Run, or Hennen Rennen as it is known in Germany, presents its audience with the reality of proletarian struggle. Under the bright colours and slapstick comedy of the opening scene (characteristic of Aardman Animation’s oeuvre) hides the oppression and hope for radical structural change that underpins the narrative force of this film. As an audience, we are presented with the stifling rule undertaken by the Tweedys in their unrelenting pursuit of profit. The viewer suffers the futility of these actions time and time again, as not only has it led to decreases in their egg yield, but it turns out to be their final undoing.
Despite this though, Chicken Run, or Evasion on the Farm (as the Spanish title roughly translates), also presents the grim realities of the world in which we live. It highlights the struggles faced by the prospective poultry products in organised rebellion against an entrenched power structure, and especially one on which the people, or chickens, depend so much.
Early in the cinematic masterpiece director Peter Lord, the filmic legend of Wallace & Gromit fame, examines the barriers that Ginger faces in mobilising the resistance. Ginger is often faced with disbelief and hesitance from her fellow revolutionaries on her path to Marxist uprising. Upon encountering the incredulity of her companions in response to the prospect of life outside the farm, Ginger declares that the “fences aren’t just around [the] farm, they’re in your heads”. Even though they have nothing to lose but their coops, the chickens cannot fathom the possibility of freedom from the system, asking who will feed them and what farm they will go to if they leave, unable to comprehend a life without their omnipotent overlords.
Furthermore, like many traitors of class struggle before him, Rocky (the falsely named ‘flying rooster’) hijacks a well-meaning workers’ revolution to benefit his own ends. Rocky’s faux leadership is built on the fallacy of his flair for flight, and through fostering an unquestioning totalitarian rule he establishes an epoch of great unsustainability in the revolution.
Additionally, when faced with the death of a fellow comrade to the pie machine, the hens are placated by the Tweedys with chicken feed, and Rocky encourages these unhealthy coping mechanisms, completely obscuring the real problem at hand. Thus, the audience sees how, in Chicken Run’s universe, it is not religion, but instead whole, cracked and rolled grain that is the opiate of the masses – showing not only the dire straits that the workers are experiencing but also turning a reluctant mirror on modern society.
Thus, it can be said that Chicken Run, or Chicken Rebellion (as the Estonian title rightly proclaims once translated), presents the viewer with a vision of revolution which, while plagued with pitfalls, ultimately succeeds. Seizing the means of egg production allows for self-actualisation in the poultry, and for a true Marxist utopia to be achieved. Like Aardman’s other feature length projects (see Flushed Away (2006), Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)) Chicken Run is a great introduction to Marxist theory and a terrific insight into the problems within organised class struggle. And, according to the Sunday Mail, it’s also a film “that your children will love”.