The Nut Job

My favorite quote goes something like, “Jeff Clark has the right to say whatever he wants, but there are consequences!” Oh, really? Tell that to Pussy Riot!

Jeff’s comments in last month’s Stomp and Stammer spurred cowardly musicians and jealous local critics to seize upon the situation as a rallying point for comeuppance for previous negative reviews and political disagreements.

And while there is nothing particularly original about a smear campaign, their mobbish vitriol culminated in death threats, calls for vandalism and disruption of the magazine’s distribution.

This entire scenario finds an indisputable parallel in the South Korean production of The Nut Job, a film directed by former Pixar animator Peter Lepeniotis about a squirrel named Surly who gets himself banished from Liberty Park.

Surly is off-putting. He’s unpleasant and shows no interest in being a team player or saying what others want to hear. Surly and his rodent friend Buddy pursue their own path, much to the disdain of the rancorous park leader, Raccoon, who demands complete obedience to his authority. In this collective utopia, all the little creatures pitch in and do their part gathering nuts for the winter, which their leader then doles out. Not about to settle for whatever scraps are tossed his way, Surly plans on knocking over a food cart full of nuts and gorging himself. But when Raccoon’s agents Andie and Grayson discover his plan, they decide that the nut cart would better serve the community.

It’s Surly plan that puts the food cart into play but the altruistic Andie is not above taking advantage of Surly’s romantic interests for the benefit of “the common good.” Her motivation is “the park NEEDS that cart!”

“To each according to their need, from each according to their ability” means simply that someone other than you decides what’s right, and as a member of such a community, you, the individual, forfeit any moral right to refuse to make the requisite sacrifices demanded for the “good” of others. And who exactly are those who take it upon themselves to tell you what is right? The same ones who will tell you what to think, how to react and ultimately who is to be a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered for their cause! Leaders like Raccoon see others not as they are but according to what their political prejudices require.

With a bank heist in progress, the cart is mobilized, crashing downhill into the massive oak tree that park animals call home, burning it to the ground. And though it was through the negligent antics of Grayson, a blatant self-promoter who injects himself into every situation in order to take credit for any success that arises, Surly gets labeled a “clear and present danger,” and is banished based solely on public opinion! “He never wanted to join us!” is the prevailing sentiment used to justify his exile.

In other words, there is no place for someone who holds to his own beliefs.

Cast out on city streets, it’s not long before Surly finds a nut retail shop that’s being used by crooks that plan on substituting the nuts for the money in the nearby bank’s vault. One of the robbers has a dog controlled with a dog whistle, which eventually falls into Surly’s possession.

But his power grab is short-lived when Andie pops up and blackmails Surly into accepting a deal to “share” the nuts fifty-fifty. Returning with news of her deal, Raccoon decrees that the deal with Surly will be honored…that is, until the nuts are acquired! Behind the scenes, however, Raccoon sends Mole out to sabotage Surly’s plan. Confused, Mole questions, “Why shouldn’t we wait until the nuts are ours?” to which Raccoon answers, “Animals are controlled by the food they have, and it’s our job to keep it from them!”

Nobody is ever in danger from drinking poison out of a bottle labeled with a skull & crossbones. It needs to be hidden, introduced into some other beverage in secret. “Less food means control,” warns Raccoon.

The same applies to free speech. Questionable comments that may offend readers should be responded to within the arena of ideas and contradicted if necessary, but threats, intimidation and confiscation distort everyone’s rights.

What’s the line in Orwell’s 1984? “Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you, and you sold me.”

Wielding the power to place blame on others, Raccoon is immune from scrutiny, so when the tunnels flood, it’s Surly who comes under suspicion…and any who choose to defend him!

Now that’s an important element for a smear campaign to succeed: it’s not enough to merely obey or even agree with the smear, you have to cringe at the possibility of being implicated as an accomplice. As pressure erodes reason, it matters not who is hurt by a boycott so long as the mob is satisfied.

For Surly, it is better to risk starvation than it is to act as the community has prescribed. What separates him from the other animals is his willingness to take risks. He’s the free thinker who, like all businessmen, takes the risks. Labor demands higher wages from the guy who initially makes the investment using his own money to create an opportunity for others, yet he is the one who has to deal with federal and state regulations designed to punish success.  He’s called “greedy” and insensitive while his “profits” are being redistributed, and for his effort that made any surplus possible, he’s hounded out of the community because of a misspoken word here and there. And it is always done in the name of “human brotherhood” and tolerance, while the results are always the same: extermination of one’s character, and ultimately his ideas.

Throughout this movie, there’s this cardinal, a small red bird who is always lingering, listening, watching. Sometimes he’s in the background; sometimes he’s perched on Raccoon’s shoulder. And if you take a closer look at his face, between beak and breast his markings distinctly form a pattern of an Old World boxed mustache.

He is the epitome of Joseph Stalin.

Sit through the closing credits! There’s no doubt as to what The Nut Job is about.

[PG]