REVIEWS: All the Little Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1999:

All The Little Animals
Directed and produced by Jeremy Thomas
Starring Christian Bale and John Hurt
Lions Gate Films (561 Broadway, Suite 12-B, New York, NY 10012), 1999

Scheduled for video release in
November, after an August theatre debut,
All The Little Animals invites comparison
with characters reminiscent of George and
Lenny in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella O f
Mice And Men, a plot loosely paralleling
Charles Dickens’ autobiographical opus
David Copperfield, and climactic action
developing within the ruins of King Arthur’s
reputed stronghold along the Cornish coast.


The excellent acting and cinematography
make plain that this is a story
Jeremy Thomas thought well worth the
financial risk of making, for the thematic
value of it, even though the lack of a love
interest and opportunities for dramatic special
effects foredoomed it to low returns.
The obscurity of the book by the
same title on which it is based––and of
author Walker Hamilton––add a further puzzle
to a film that is at once easy to watch and
hard to decipher if one hopes to unravel all
the possible layers of meaning.
Flak sheets provided by Lions Gate
Films reveal only that Thomas read the book
“in the early 1970s.” An extensive online
search turned up nothing more about either
the book All The Little Animals or Hamilton,
except that the book has been out of print so
long that even >>Amazon.com<< can find it
only via special request of rare-and-out-ofprint
specialists.
There lies still another conundrum.
John Hurt plays Mr. Summers, a George-orMerlin-like
recluse who buries roadkills,
destroys the equipment of those who would
harm animals for their amusement, avoids
most of humanity, and feeds both mice and
cockroaches on his kitchen floor. He is
plainly a prototypical animal rights activist,
whose sentiments have been echoed by thousands
over the past several decades––but
Hamilton apparently created him well before
such characters were often in the news, or
were collectively taken seriously.
Mr. Summers befriends Bobby,
the Christian Bale character, who is a braindamaged
and grief-stricken runaway. His
mother has died. Bobby’s cruel stepfather,
one Mr. DeWinter, defines himself by
crushing Bobby’s beloved pet mouse soon
after Bobby’s mother’s funeral, as part of an
effort to intimidate Bobby into signing over
his rights to his mother’s department store.
Bobby in turn defines himself by
wrecking a truck in which he is hitching a
ride when the driver attempts to run over a
fox. The driver dies instead––and a rabbit.
The gentle characters are responsible,
altogether, for at least three human
deaths. The truly vicious characters, by contrast,
are among them accused of causing
one human death and visibly succeed in
killing no humans.
This paradox is perhaps the closest
the story comes to directly echoing Of Mice
And Men. Despite the similarities of characterization,
and the elements seemingly borrowed
wholesale from Dickens, All The
Little Animals is not a retelling of anything
familiar. Rather, Hamilton, Thomas, and
Bale and Hurt have taken just enough threads
from the familiar to hint that they might be
going in one particular direction––and then
go another. If All The Little Animals is ever
taught in film-as-literature courses, essays
about the symbolism in it and the purported
hidden meanings will proliferate like the
humans whom Mr. Summers detests. But
they will probably all miss the point, which
in the end seems rather simple: perhaps one
cannot be perfect in the pursuit of kindness
toward all living beings, nor even in nonviolence.
Neither can one really renounce living
in the modern world, even with the most
dedicated and sincere of efforts. Yet one can
make the effort to be as kind, nonviolent,
and considerate of the natural world as possible,
and those who try tend to become better
people––despite their failings and imperfections––than
those who do not.

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