It’s a Jungle Out There: Father-Figure and Survival in ANIMAL KINGDOM
30 January 2011
To survive in the animal kingdom one must know how to care for oneself. Without acquiring basic life-skills there is no chance of survival.
The death the Josh “J” Cody’s mother, in the opening sequence of Animal Kingdom, and subsequent move into his estranged family’s home, and lifestyle, provide J a father-figure who rears him, teaching him essential life-skills necessary for survival.
It is clear Baz Brown, the Cody family business partner and close friend, is a father-figure to J. The best example of his paternal role occurs during a scene between Baz and J in a restaurant bathroom. Stepping away from the urinal, J attempts his return to the restaurant without washing his hands. Immediately, Baz stops him and questions his decision not to clean himself. J, who apparently never knew the importance of washing after using the bathroom, looks dumbfounded. In total frankness, Baz tells J, “Your hands go anywhere near your ass or your cock you wash them after.” Not only does Baz make J wash, he verbally explains exactly how he should do it: Baz makes sure J gets soap, works up lather, rinses, and even helps him dry his hands. The scene is striking because it draws attention to how clueless and impressionable J is, as well as Baz’s natural inclination to look after J as a father-figure. In this particular example, Baz teaches J cleanliness, a necessary life-skill.
Unfortunately, shortly after this scene, Baz dies; however, although Baz dies, the father-figure presence in the film is not lost. Indirectly, Baz’s death introduces another character who embodies father-figure qualities, Nathan Leckie. Revenging Baz’s death, Craig, Darren, and “Pope” Cody kill two police officers, and Leckie, a member of the police force, gets assigned to investigate.
Knowing J is in way over his head with the Cody family, Leckie invests time and attention into rearing J and separating him from the Cody’s turmoil; therefore, Leckie picks up as J’s father-figure where Baz left off. For example, once in witness protection, there is a scene in which Leckie teaches J to cook pasta. Leckie makes J smell the spicy Vietnamese chili sauce, stir the pasta as it boils on the stove, and explains to J when the food is ready to eat. Like the scene in the bathroom, the father-figure teaches J by making him take a hands-on role in his own learning. Baz makes Jay wash his hands; Leckie makes Jay cook the pasta. Also like the bathroom scene, the father-figure teaches J an invaluable life lesson, how to prepare food.
In stark contrast, the film also exhibits the lack of rearing by members of the Cody family. After Baz’s death, there is a scene between Grandma Smurf and J in which Smurf ties her grandson’s tie for Baz’s funeral. Unlike with Baz and Leckie, J cannot take a hands-on role in the learning process because Smurf ties his tie herself. Moreover, she ties it loosely around her own neck while J sits mindlessly. While she is tying, she rants about the strained relationship between her and J’s deceased mother, never once explaining anything about tying a tie.
Moreover, Smurf is standing, which puts her (although she’s petite) in a position of power over the idly sitting J. This physical positioning is remarkable because, in doing the work for J (tying the tie), she is withholding knowledge from him, which does give her power over him—in opposition, Baz and Lickie never take an overbearing physical position over J. When knotted, Smurf has J stand. His height is staggering when juxtaposed with hers, but, as he stands, she slips the tie around his neck and tightens it for him; J doesn’t even tighten the tie for himself. And, in tightening a noose-like object around J’s neck, Smurf, no matter how tiny, still holds power over J. He could have learned how to dress himself in this scene, but the opportunity is withheld and J learns no life-skill from his grandmother, in this scene or any other.
Essentially, as they relate to J, Baz and Leckie represent the same person, the father-figure. That is the reason the two characters never appear in the film together; only in Baz’s death can Leckie emerge.
Ultimately, the father-figure teaches J how to take care of himself. The lessons in survival learned from the father-figure result in the self-sufficient man J evolves into by the end of the film. And, when it comes down to J needing to care of himself, he is able to. In the end, if J had not killed Pope, Pope, likely, would have killed J. It was a matter of survival, and J was taught how to survive.