Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ratatouille and Battlestar Galactica!?

Pardon my indulgence, but it's rare for me to discuss in depth one of the greater passions I retained from undergrad; namely, Jungian psychological theory and its relation to storytelling mediums.
(Property of Richard Chapman)

Perhaps my fascination rests in the concept that, despite the dramatic differences between the various ethnicities and heritages of humanity, a representative set of (near infinite) constants still arise universally from all cultures across the world. Examples can be seen between sand mandalas and stained-glass church windows to even theater-culture's own application of Jungian Archetypal Theory (developed by Pearson). Needless to say, the idea of a "collective unconsciousness" and the presence of Jungian archetypes across different mediums remains a persistent part of my thoughts and analyses. Imagine my excitement to find that I may have recognized an American cultural favorite between two distinctive mediums - Science Fiction and Animation. A shocking find, I've recently discovered that Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille shares some striking archetypal parallels with Ronald D. Moore's re-imagined series Battlestar Galactica - particularly between characters Remy the Rat and Gaius Baltar. (consider this post "spoilerific")

Remy (voiced by stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt; seen right) is Ratatouille's protagonist, a young rat born with an inalienable desire for higher learning and sophistication, and with a nose more sensitive than your average rodent's. Pinned down by his blue-collar, French-country roots and his father's supreme mandate, Remy dreams to cook and create the finest French cuisine. We learn early on that Remy is a little selfish and self-centered, not nearly content with securing his family's well-being as the official "poison detector" (He has the unique ability to smell and segregate rat poison). He regularly disobeys the rules ensuring rat-survival to follow his flights of fancy by sneaking into the kitchen to learn French gourmet. Of course, he learns to read in the process from a cookbook written by his idol Chef Auguste Gusteau. To be fair, he remains loyal - begrudgingly fulfilling his duties with no more than an argument with his father - and the audience certainly sympathizes with his desire to follow his aspirations.

Remy's life heads to a turning point when he's separated from his pack during an emergency and stranded in the sewers. On the verge of starvation, Remy begins speaking with the hallucination of his beloved idol Gusteau - who helps him to stay alive, serves as an encouraging mentor, and represents his conscience and sense of guilt. Their travels take them to Paris, France where Remy can vicariously experience the sophistication and prestige of being a gourmet chef through Linguini, his near talentless human friend. Remy is frequently tested during his endeavors to become a better person and friend at the risk of becoming vindictive and hurtful. His journey teaches him not only to follow his dreams, but to become less selfish and understand the perspective of others. Remy learns to be forgiving and to use his gift to help his friends and family instead of just himself. BSG's Baltar shares similar distinctive parallels.
Battlestar Galactica covers the events following the nuclear genocide and near extinction of the human race - of which Gaius Baltar (seen left; portrayed by British actor James Callis) is the inadvertent cause. Through out Baltar's journey, we learn of Baltar's early life as the son of a poor farmer, the altering of his accent to sound more refined and to abandon his past, and his ultimate goal in becoming affluent and sophisticated . A fervent liar and manipulator, Baltar's decisions swim in moral ambiguity and it is often left to the audience to determine whether his actions are justified. He is vain, egotistical, and arrogant - but still very human - and his primary motivation is his own survival. Baltar's endeavors eventually prepare him to become a key player in humanity's survival, to abandon his self-serving nature in the process, and to hone his gifts for the general good.

Baltar is introduced as a famous, young genius who mastered multiple sciences and capitalized on his brilliance. Despite his intelligence, he illegally hires his lover (seen below; portrayed by Tricia Helfer) to aid him in designing a security program for the entire military, for which he retains full credit (despite her performing a great deal of the work). When she catches him sleeping with
another woman, his lover reveals that she is a Cylon - robotic servants created by mankind who rebelled forty years ago, disappeared after a truce, who have returned, and now appear human - of which she is the 6th model out of 12. She informs him that she left several back doors in the security program to exploit, that the Cylons intend on eradicating the entire human race, and that she is going to save his life because she is in love with him. Immediately thereafter, she uses her body to shield him from the shock-wave of a nuclear blast, allowing him to survive. As fate would have it, Baltar makes it off the planet with the other survivors when he suddenly begins to see (and feel) apparitions of his former lover. Her image (nicknamed "Head Six") serves as his guide throughout the entire series as he learns the value in putting others before himself. Whether Head Six is real and what she represents is debatable, although she overtly serves as Baltar's guilt complex, his survival instinct, and an outlet for his sexual impulses. Only Baltar can see, feel, and interact with her, appearing to babble madly at the air to anyone else. Although she doesn't always appear benevolent, Baltar is utterly dependent on Head Six for his survival and redemption as the series barrels forward.

From their working-class roots to the lessons they learn, Remy and Baltar share an interesting comparison. Aside from the more mature theme of BSG, their journeys are nearly identical from start to finish. Whether these roles function as an archetype is certainly debatable, but I ask you to compare them to a character like Shakespeare's Hamlet - who is also self-centered, bright, and (arguably) whose guilt complex manifests as the ghost of his idolized father. The only difference with Hamlet, of course, is that his madness presses him down a path of destruction and tragedy, as opposed to Remy and Baltar who ultimately are better for it. Much like the "anti-hero" archetype, we, as people, enjoy this concept, as it produces very human characters who either slowly learn how to redeem themselves or deservedly fail - a notion which is universally accessible. I expect that there are many more roles that share similarities with these characters - can you think of any? Post below.

No comments: