Is Peter Rabbit a Communist?

Did you think ideology could escape this franchise?

The rabbit in question. Drawings by Beatrix Potter. Taken at the     V & A at London.

Is anyone surprised Armitage Hux does not like rabbits?

During a lecture break, I watched the trailer for the new Peter Rabbit. Looking beyond the ridiculous concept, strange plot, exhausting amounts of cuts (can trailers please relax?), I saw ("The Light" by Hank Williams, a great song) something interesting.

Within this strange experience of a trailer, one line started my brain off into a specific reading.

Rose Byrne plays a sweet artist who loves nature and the family of rabbits. Domhnall Gleeson plays a yuppie who is angry and decidedly does not like these rabbits. It's that “opposites attract” storyline, love goes beyond difference, etcetera, etcetera.

But then Byrne says this one thing as she goes to greet her new neighbour (Gleeson): “We all share our land around here.”

THE ALARM BELLS WENT OFF (COMRADES).

OH

HOLY HELL.

THIS NEW PETER RABBIT MOVIE IS ABOUT CAPITALISM LIVING ALONGSIDE COMMUNISM.

I mean communism here as in the idea of having common land, not so much the political, economic system, but perhaps alluding to this. Peter and his friends have some Neo-Marxist ideas!! Clearly Byrne's character believes in the idea of common areas for all (non-humans included) to use which is immediately a problem for Gleeson's character.

While Byrne is easy-going, cooperative, about collectivity, Gleeson is a representation of very individualistic capitalism.

Upon closer inspection there are more and more signs of this film being about conflicts which arise when capitalism takes over common areas. Historically, there was a struggle between common land and the Enclosure Movement in England. During the Enclosure, land that previously had no barriers began to be fenced off, people began to set limits and claim ownership to land (Federici 2004). This left small farmers poor, dependent on others for jobs; it led to growing inequality between rich and poor (Federici 2004). 

Back in 2018, a British production has a storyline where the antagonist is building an impenetrable fence which clearly sets the limits of his property. Gleeson’s character is desperate to exercise his claim to private property so that these rabbits will not bother him. There were many ways to showing this, but the writers (and trailers editors) chose to focus on a fence, the very instrument of capital accumulation by the powerful in Middle-Ages England. INTERESTING.

So the plot of the film is that the rabbits (and possibly the rest of the animals) fight against this man. The inhabitants of the common land are being threatened by a figure heavily embedded in capitalism who tries to take their living and they try to fight back… Peter Rabbit, what?

So is this a film about communism?

Maybe, the answer I present to the title question is maybe. While I'm writing this with a sense of humour, and for fun, I also hope to draw attention to the omnipresence of ideology. This is not a judgement, of Peter Rabbit or any media. Ideologies, bias, preferences, values are present in every single thing human beings create! That's it!!! Recognizing these can be a great time, specially with a movie that does not seem to be made to create political debate. But recognizing politics, values, whatever you want to call it, can also help us be aware of who is making these high-budget, far-reaching films and why. There is something productive about staying critical (not necessarily meaning you gotta tear every product down or find) about everything one comes across. Recently, I heard a professor argue that only films that deviate from Hollywood, from traditional storytelling, that reflect reality can truly make audience members think. I completely disagree. Being part of mainstream does not equate to being devoid of points to reflect on, being so dismissive is dangerous. If everyone ignored mainstream films as pieces to analyze, how much could go unchecked? As it is, the film industry is conservative, and normative out of this fear of losing money, analysis of what these films convey can call out conservatism or even find new readings.

Entertaining, escapist films are a huge terrain, let this world not be ignored. Let it continue to grow in analysis, critique, essays, and however it is you think through film.

Cause then you can argue things like “Peter Rabbit is fighting for a more socialist community.”

-Sara Lopez

The information cited about the Enclosure Movement comes from Silvia Federici's book Caliban and the Witch.

Lau & Sara
Lau & Sara

We're Lau and Sara Lopez.


Sara- fascinated by the ideologies and values films reflect. Self-proclaimed cinema nerd and anthropology (mostly) student by profession. I love having discussions about film and hypotheticals.

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Is Peter Rabbit a Communist?