This weekend our family’s Friday movie night featured Chicken Run, an animated comedy directed by Peter Lord and Nick Park which tells the story of one group of cooped-up chickens and their relentless thirst for freedom from their soulless, money-grubbing overlords, the Tweedys. The chickens’ ringleader is Ginger, an independent, no-nonsense hen constantly hatching (pun intended) often ludicrous plans for escape.
At one point in the movie, after numerous foiled attempts at freedom from the barbed wire boredom and merciless tedium of an existence devoted to nothing but the sheer production of eggs and more eggs, the hens begin to give up hope of ever escaping. The following scene shows Ginger trying to rouse her friends from their despair.
Ginger: Think, everyone, think. What haven’t we tried yet?
Hen 1: We haven’t tried not trying to escape.
Hen 2: Hmm. That might work.
Ginger: What about Edwina? [Edwina was axed after failing to produce eggs.] How many more empty nests will it take?
Hen 3: It wouldn’t be empty if she’d spent more time laying,
Hen 4: And less time escaping.
Ginger: So, laying eggs all your life, then getting plucked and roasted is good enough for you?
Hen: It’s a living.
Ginger: The problem is the fences aren’t just round the farm, they’re up here in your heads. There is a better place out there. Somewhere beyond that hill. It has wide-open spaces and lots of trees. And grass. Can you imagine that? Cool, green grass.
Hens: Who feeds us?
Ginger: We feed ourselves.
Hens: Where’s the farm?
Ginger: There is no farm.
Hens: Where does the farmer live?
Ginger: There is no farmer.
Hens: Is he on holiday?
Ginger: He isn’t anywhere. Don’t you get it? There’s no egg count, no farmers, no dogs and coops and keys, and no fences!…Freedo-o-o-om!
If an unquenchable thirst for freedom is part of what it means to be human, we’re also very much chickens about it. It’s easy to settle for just making a living, “working 9 to 5” (as the old Dolly Parton song goes) and becoming personality-less cogs in a great, big, capitalist wheel. In a world in which production, efficiency and materialism run the show much like the Tweedys, we can quickly lose our imaginations. We can stop believing that the world beyond our coop is anything better or different or more life-giving. We can become afraid to dream of a world in which God is all in all. In which there are green pastures and still waters and a Good Shepherd whose rod leads us into perfect freedom.
Ginger’s diagnosis holds true for us, too: the problem is the fences aren’t just round the farm, they’re up here in your heads. We’ve lost our imaginations. We’ve lost our capacity to believe that there is a better place out there, somewhere beyond that hill, with wide-open spaces and lots of trees and grass.
Truman Capote once wrote that “love, having no geography, knows no bounds.”
Maybe the beginning of true freedom really is little more than learning to be loved by our Maker.