Welcome to the first Faith in Film blog post to tackle an animated movie! That's right, folks: it's Shrek time. Shrek is, in many ways, the anti-fairy tale. It literally begins with a large, foul-mouthed ogre using a classic "prince charming rescues a princess from a tall tower with a kiss" fairy tale as a piece of toilet paper. Right from the start, you know that this isn't your usual, smarmy Disney movie (as a matter of fact, it's made by Dreamworks).
At every turn, Shrek seeks to disrupt the formula we're all so familiar with. The fact that Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy star as the voices of Shrek and Donkey, respectively, only drives home this irreverence. But peel back the top layer of Shrek (see what I did there?), and one finds a movie with a surprisingly moral message.
Shrek, at its core, is a rejection of the idea that one must be classically attractive, unobtrusive, well versed in etiquette, and born of the proper status to be a hero or affect positive change in the world. Just look at the title character! He's a large, smelly, vulgar ogre who lives in a swamp and gets crotchety whenever someone steps on his lawn. Not exactly a knight in shining armor!
This is a film about taking the time to get to know someone and recognizing that they may have real good hidden underneath whatever exterior they may project. This is summed up in a surprisingly insightful scene where Donkey and Shrek are walking through a field of sunflowers together.
When Shrek tells Donkey that there's more to ogres than people think, Donkey asks for an example. After pausing to think, Shrek says that "ogres...are like onions!" Donkey, misunderstanding, goes through a litany of characteristics that ogres and onions share (they smell, they make you cry, etc.) before Shrek enlightens him.
He says that ogres have layers, just like an onion has layers. This is a very rudimentary way of saying that they're complex. Makes sense, right? Just about everyone is a complex bundle of hopes, dreams, emotions, likes, dislikes, convictions, etc. We all have a lot going on under the hood!
There's a word that I was exposed to in high school that I haven't been able to get out of my head since then. The word is "sonder". It's a noun, and it's defined as "The realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own." Woof! That's a lot to take in.
It's true, though! Every single person you pass on the street is living a life as vivid and complex as yours. They're managing work, relationships, finances, health, leisure, and any number of different things just like you. But we don't think of them like that, do we? Oftentimes we think of them in much simpler, much less flattering terms.
That's not the single father of 2 rushing to get to work on time so he can feed his kids, that's the jerk who cut you off in traffic. That's not the veteran whose PTSD and mental illness from her time in Iraq have left her jobless and begging for enough money to buy dinner, that's the homeless woman on the side of the street who you try to avoid eye contact with. See what I mean?
John Koenig, an author and voice actor from Idaho, has a wonderful video on this word, which I'll link below. He frames each of our lives in terms of movies (fitting, right?). We are each the main character in our own story, surrounding by our supporting cast (our closest friends and family). A little further out, we have our loose network of acquaintances, the people we drift in and out of contact with over the years.
And then, even further out, are the extras. These are the people in traffic with us, the folks sitting in the booth to our left while we order our coffee, the teller at the bank, and the cashier at the grocery store. They make brief appearances in our lives and often vanish shortly thereafter, never to be seen again.
A sonder is the realization that these extras are each the main character in their own movie. They each have their own supporting cast, group of acquaintances, and extras. They could be dealing with just as much as we are, and we would never even know it!
This is what Shrek is about at its core. He is an easy book to judge by his cover. He's big, green, ugly, mean, and acts like he wants to be left alone. Closed case, right? WRONG. As we learn throughout the movie Shrek is capable of love, compassion, courage, and any number of things.
It's an obvious allegory, but a solid one nonetheless. How do we live it? Easy! Try to cut the extras in your life a little more slack (and your supporting cast, too, while you're at it!). Don't curse them out for cutting you off, say a prayer that they get where they're going safely. Don't look away from them in discomfort, give them a friendly wave. It takes very little to brighten someone's day!
Especially in this time of vicious division, we could all use a little more kindness in our lives. Let's all try not to judge folks by their outward appearance or characteristics; instead, let's remember that they're living lives as vivid and complex as our own and give them the benefit of the doubt a bit more. It costs nothing, and you won't have to carry around the weight of anger, frustration, and judgement!