Proverbs 14:15 MSG
There is, at work in American culture, an ethical system that is as insidious as it is ubiquitous. It feeds the military/industrial complex and bloats the defense budget. It fuels the massive trade in guns and ammunition that plagues our peace, and it provides fodder for our movies and television programs.
You will find it in Saturday morning kids’ cartoons and on the streets of Dodge City, in comic books, in the Ok Corral, and on the sands of Iwo Jima. It is the ethical antithesis of the Christian gospel, yet is recognized as normative by Christians everywhere. It wages wars and shatters peace; it decimates families, destroys neighborhoods, and wastes lives. Yet, it is embraced and defended by clergy, by educators, by politicians, and captains of industry.
It is what the Rev. Dr. Walter Wink identified as “The Myth of Redemptive Violence.”
According to this myth, we are saved, not by our capacity for love or kindness but by our capacity for violence. We are made strong not by our relationships with God and our neighbors but by our ability to kill and destroy. It is not in making peace that we know our purpose and our true selves, but in making war and shedding blood that our lives find meaning.
Heroes are those who embrace violence reluctantly but more efficiently than anti-heroes. They are forced, by nature, by existential brokenness, by their love for the underdog, to take up the sword, the bow, the gun, in their never ending quest for peace and honor, a quest that is never fully satisfied, a goal that is never fully realized.
So the fight must go on.
Some few have challenged the Myth of Redemptive Violence. They have demonstrated and shown that it is a circular, never ending ethic that only manages to create the very thing it purports to abhor. Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. They saw that violence overcomes violence only in the short term. Eventually, violence always begets more violence.
Yet, those who live by this deceptive myth live in the short term. They shut their eyes to and ignore the concept of eventuality in exchange for the momentary quiet (not peace, but quiet) that follows the overwhelming violence which they must, of necessity, bring to the conflict.
Wolverine, The Lone Ranger, Batman, Sargent Rock, Wonder Woman, Samson, Popeye, James Bond, even RinTinTin can’t escape the fate that always awaits them once they have committed to this insidious myth.
But now, comes to the screen, a film that challenges and defies the Myth of Redemptive Violence and it’s ugly sister, the Myth of Inevitable Violence, a story based on an old children’s book which stands up to conventional wisdom and says, “Violence need not be inevitable,” and then goes a revolutionary few steps further to say that, violence is NOT redemptive. What is redemptive is love.
The film is “Ferdinand.”
The film opens with a group of male calves in a pen at the Rancho del Toro, a place that raises and trains bulls for the bull ring in Madrid. One of these calves is a solid, black Toro named Ferdinand who love nothing so much as flowers.
The ranch, the adult bulls, and the workers who train and groom them are convinced that killing the bulls is a necessary sadness that must be endured. Besides, all a bull has to do to be free is to defeat El Primero, the greatest matador in all of Spain.
The bulls are sure that this is why none ever come back to the farm after they are taken off to fight in the ring. They get to spend the rest of their lives in a lavishly grown pasture with the cow of their own choosing.
But, alas, no bulls have ever won. The game is rigged. The fix is in. Only the matadors can win.
So Ferdinand escapes while he is still a calf and makes his way toward the town to search for a place to stay. On the way, Ferdinand discovers that these people are flower growers. Before he can get into too much trouble he is adopted by a little girl and her father who take them back to their farm.
In a montage we see Ferdinand grow up into a huge, muscular bull just like his father only he has no fight in him. He has no rage. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. All he wants to do is eat, play with the little girl who rescued him, and smell the flowers.
But, of course, that bucolic life cannot go on unchallenged.
At the flower festival in the town Ferdinand is stung by a bee and, in his effort to get away from it, he nearly destroys the town, including a clever and funny scene in a china shop. He is captured and sold back to the ranch he originally came from where he is trained to fight against his will.
His protestations are to no avail, however, when El Primero arrives and picks Ferdinand to be the last bull he will fight in the bull fighting ring before he retires.
The next thing we see is Ferdinand being prodded and pushed out the door and into the ring. There is El Primero with his red muleta, trying to get Ferdinand to charge at him. Ferdinand has no heart for this fighting, however. He has, in the mean time discovered what happened to his father and the desire to fight is not in
He has been prodded, pushed, slashed, and enticed to charge the matador but it just is not in him. He looks at the matador who is now holding a sword at the ready. He looks at the crowd cheering for him to fight.
And he sits down. He refuses to fight and, if he dies for his refusal, to be it.
Now the crowd shifts its chant. Instead of calling for a fight, they are now calling for the matador to spare this big bull who wants only to sniff flowers and play with the little girl who is running into the arena begging for his life to be spared.
For a few moments we don’t know what the matador is going to do, then he turns his back to the bull (an act of supreme courage for a matador) and strides slowly and purposefully out of the arena.
In the final scene, Ferdinand and all of his buddies from the ranch are getting out of a trailer at the flower farm where the girl lives. These are the rejects that would never have gotten to the ring but, here, they will find happiness and love among the flowers.
In Ferdinand, the myth of redemptive violence is pushed aside by a much more inclusive and comprehensive ethic of generosity, kindness, and love.
Would that we might have more films with a message such as this.
Dean Feldmeyer is the author of 5 novels, 4 non-fiction books, three plays, and over 100 essays, articles, poems, and short stories, some of which can be found on this web site.