Caste of millions
Steven Spielberg Antz general release
Woody Allen as the leader of a victorious workers’ revolution? As the man himself might have said, ‘You can’t be serious’. Yet this is what the Socialist Workers Party would have us believe when they reviewed Steven Spielberg’s entertaining production (Socialist Worker November 21). Perhaps this tells us all we need to know about the SWP’s view of a ‘revolution’.
‘Antz’ is the very enjoyable animated film from Spielberg’s Dreamworks company. It is set in a strictly hierarchical ant colony, with clear and impregnable physical, cultural and political divisions between different component castes. Worker ants work and can under no circumstances mix with soldier ants. Soldier ants are order-following fanatics, all built like brick outhouses. Sitting on top of this multi-millioned organic and highly organised society is a benevolent but basically out-of-touch monarchy.
The action opens with the main character, Z (features and voice lent by the brilliant Woody Allen), agonising on his psychiatrist’s couch about his place in society and his speck-like insignificance. We follow Z as he works, socialises and dreams of something better.
He meets by accident a lovely princess and - like you do - falls in love. As he lives a deeply alienated, bored life, he makes this princess the focus of his aspirations for happiness and fulfilment. He disguises himself as a soldier in order to be closer to her and through a series of accidents gets lost with her in the outside world.
Fellow workers think he has consciously broken his chains to go and find ‘Insectopia’, a place that is paradise. When it dawns on them that he is also a worker just like them, that he has broken society’s rigid demarcations, they go on strike.
This presumably is what gets the SWP’s juices flowing. The strike movement does not however formulate any independent political demands - like ‘Abolish the monarchy’ for instance; ‘For a constituant assembly’ (sorry); or ‘Replace the army ants with armed worker ant militias’ perhaps - and thus is easily derailed by a few economic sops thrown to it by an establishment demagogue.
To make a long story short, Z comes back and saves - again by accident - the ant world from destruction by a power-mad general. In the end he gets the princess, the bad guy dies and the colony is renewed. Hurray.
Obviously, the film is not about a “victorious workers’ revolution”, where “millions batter their way to liberation” (Socialist Worker November 21). It is a sophisticated children’s film, with sufficient ironic and knowing jokes to keep the adults in the audience amused. Those with political backgrounds in the cinema where I watched it were sniggering when the foreman told the workers to go back to work, and was met with a semi-anarchist “why?” The same people laughed out loud when a gaggle of worker ants tell each other that “the workers control the means of production” - good fun for lefties.
But what is the essential message of the film? Well - unlike, say, Disney’s ‘Lion King’, what we have here is cartoon in praise of individual choice and meritocracy. ‘Lion King’ shows a world thrown into profound disorder and turmoil by a disruption in the natural - aristocratic - order of things. ‘Antz’ tells us that we can choose our own place to be in the world and - if we work, fight or dream hard enough - we can get there.
Thus, despite the hero’s claim to have “changed the underlying social structure” of the colony, little actually moves on. The subliminal message of the film is thus a reconciliation of the alienated individual to society as it is. The thing that really needs changing is what’s inside your head. As Z says at the end of the film about his ‘revolution’, he got to where he wanted to be - “and that was right back where I started from”.
Tell that to the ‘antz’ on the street of Indonesia, Woody.