Before I had a child, I only had recollections of films from my childhood and what they meant to me. As children our little developing minds consume data and interpret it in the most literal of terms . We don’t understand nuance or metaphor, we take it as we see it. When I was a child, I liked to be challenged with my entertainment. I didn’t care as much for innocent and childish cartoons, movies, songs, stories, ETC. I liked my shit a little dangerous, a little scary, a little challenging. I cared not for Snow Whites or Bambies or Robin Hoods. I was more on the wavelength of Never Ending Stories and Dark Crystals and Watcher in the Woods…es…
I did dig some of the trippier Disney fair of the 60’s. BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS had some pretty deep shit in it, what with Angela Lansbury and her orphan brood casting spells and playing soccer (I’m sorry, ‘Football’) with some rather aggressive animated animals who as per the film, killed a wizard, stole his magic medallion, and now live under some weird authoritarian state with a Lion in charge (always the fucking lions). Oh and let’s not forget the spell that reanimates old medieval armory that scares the shit out some Nazi’s and sends them packing back to the Fatherland.
RETURN TO OZ was my jam! Dorothy getting shock treatment?!? Little girls getting swept down flooded rivers?!? A woman who collects heads?!? A creepy as hell living moose sofa and pumpkin head with an Oedipus Complex? The WHEELERS??? Yeah that did it for me. Still does for that matter.
These were all films that I maybe revisited once or twice in my twenties, sentimentally, but never really delved into them as when I had a child who by the age of four was watching these films REPEATEDLY. Once the film ended, well we would just rewind that shit and start it all over again. You get to learn all the dialogue, you know the music cues and you even catch the occasional wiggle of a set piece or where the film skipped a frame. It was during this time that my son (who is autistic and prone to obsess over certain films and songs) watched the 1973 animated version of E.B. White’s CHARLOTTE’S WEB. The first few hundred times to watch it, or hear it in the background, you just pass it off as another syrupy kid’s film (although the Sherman Brothers did write some banger songs for it). But after, let’s say, the 300th viewing, your cinematic conditioning starts kicking in. You start to read between the lines and you get what the filmmakers were really trying to do, and the story they wanted to tell, albeit through a singing pig (voiced by Henry Gibson btw).
What am I getting at? Simple. CHARLOTTE’S WEB is FIGHT CLUB for kids.
As a child, you buy into the fantasy that Fern rescues a runt of a pig who eventually learns to talk and with the other animals on the farm, does the bidding of an all knowing spider that can weave intricate webs with messages for the humans that explain just how damn special this pig is. It’s cute. It’s whimsical. It’s… bullshit.
What this film really is about is mental illness in children and how it is ignored by adults and passed off as “Childhood Fantasy”, probably leading to severe anxiety and intense psychotherapy when these kids grow up… or they grow up to be Edward Norton in FIGHT CLUB. And we all know how that ended (or at least we should.)
Let’s dissect this. I’ll help you.
Charlotte’s Web begins with a cute little summary of life on the farm in springtime. A warm, folksy old timer explains to you that the flowers bloom, baby animals are born and life is exciting! That is… unless you’re the runt of the litter, in that case you get the CHOP! Fern rescues little Wilbur from the axe of her father, and because he’s a decent man (or trying to teach her some kind of sick lesson by being a withholding prick later on..) he lets her keep the pig to raise as her own (in this adaptation, you get the feeling that the pig will die in a week, and is legitimately startled that not only does it survive, but thrives. He really wanted to kill that piggy.)
Wilbur is sent to live at Fern’s Uncle’s farm. He is dumb dumb dumb, as he can’t speak. However the resident gander sings him a little song and within minutes he’s speaking, singing, dancing and realizing his purpose on the farm…ham. That’s a hell of a lot for one afternoon.
This is where we get into FIGHT CLUB land. You see, if the film played out with just the animals doing their little songs and dances – everything would be fine. But one scene fucks it all up. This scene:
HOW THE FUCK DID SHE KNOW what the animals said?? How does she know the spider’s name is Charlotte?!? How did she know the goose said that Templeton could keep the bad egg!?! Simple folks! She didn’t. She’s insane. She’s lost touch with reality and her disassociated state has created this alternate reality where she, physically weak and emotionally timid, has projected her “id” onto Wilbur.
Wilbur. Is. Tyler. Durden.
Or at least her Tyler Durden. This scene proves that it’s all in her head and that all of your little animal friends are merely figments of her imagination. And it goes deeper! You see, it’s my conspiracy theory that through telepathy caused by extreme childhood anxiety, Fern has been able to manipulate the spider in the doorway to create these messages in the web in order to save Wilbur’s life. The “play” of the animals being able to speak, sing and carry on is created in order for her to better deal with what actually is going on in her head. She buys Wilbur more time, she gets him to the fair, but what happens when her hormones kick in and she starts wanting to hook up with Henry Fussy on the Ferris Wheel?? I’ll tell you what! The spider FUCKING DIES!!! It lays eggs and dies.
But these are not eggs my friends, no no no. This is her subconscious not ready to accept she’s insane, so it projects mini versions of her subconscious fears and desires into Charlotte’s tiny egg sack, which Wilbur rescues and takes back to the farm with him.
Months later the eggs hatch and rather than stay with Wilbur (Fern’s id), they all fly away. That is, for three of them. Wilbur allows them to name themselves, an interesting task for creatures that are mere seconds old. Their names??
- Nellie – meaning a silly person. Fern knows what she is in fact a silly person. Completely Bonkers. This name helps her accept that fact, and live with it. (Wilbur that is)
- Aranea – Meaning Spider, but also “Seeking Deep Truths” – the proof is in the pudding my dear readers.
- Joy- She finally finds Joy in accepting that she is unbalanced. She can live with her disassociation. With these three remaining traits, all the others that flew away are meaningless.
In conclusion: These two are the same.
SEE YOU NEXT TIME!