Takahata's Objective Style, Part VI

Long weekend, but pretty soon everything will be back to normal. So that means another stab at the Takahata lecture.

Whenever the subject of Horus, Prince of the Sun comes up - okay, I'm assuming this subject comes up at all, since I'm practically the only one who's ever seen it - the character discussion will always revolve around Hilda. That's the nature of the film. The bulk of the movie's psychology goes into her.

But then I remind myself that Takahata always presents characters with more than one side to themselves, and even though Hilda is the beginning of it all, we can see some of those complex traits in Horus as well.

I'm not sure about you, but here's the thing about Horus that really strikes me - he's not a traditional hero. He's far too obsessed. He's more like a character you'd expect to see in a Scorcese picture. I think typical Western movies tend to treat the male lead as a saintly figure, a Superman or a Lone Ranger, or maybe a Jimmy Stewart. They're always an ideal figure; again, they fit the role of the avatar for the audience.

Perhaps it was just a product of its era, perhaps it was a result of the movie's long and difficult production, or perhaps this was part of Takahata's master plan after all. In any event, Horus is a darker, more obsessive hero. And just like Hilda, he has a crucial weakness. It's his obsession with the wolves.

Horus is driven half mad by his unrelenting pursuit of the silver wolves. Consider the opening scene again. We are never given any backstory or explanation as to why this fight takes place. We are never told just why Horus is fighting for his life; only that he is far away from home. Just why is that? The film establishes a mood of violence and hardship. This is just a necessary condition of Horus' life.

I think this harsh existence has made Horus more ruthless than an ordinary person would be. I don't believe that he's a dangerous or violent person by nature; he certainly is a compassionate, caring individual who only wants to find his role in the greater society. Remember that it is Hilda's pain of loss and isolation that he relates to. In that regard, they're exactly the same.

I also think this ruthlessness is the key that enables him to kill the giant fish. A group of the best hunters from the village could not defeat it, but the boy could. He just seems to possess a little more rage, a little more ferocity when needed.

When the village chief and his puppetmaster (both characters seem to hail from Eisenstein's Alexander Nyevsky) assert that Horus is half-crazy, conjuring ghost stories out of thin air, the villagers take some of this to heart. Horus' obsessive pursuit for the death of the silver wolves, and their master, Grunwald, is a little unsettling when you think about it. It doesn't really take much for the town to become convinced that it is he who is the real villain.

Notice, if you will, how the owl (note to self: write a post about owl and squirrel) exploits this weakness in Act III's riot scene. All he needs to do is project an image of the silver wolf, and Horus lunges out with his axe without even thinking. "Hilda, get out of the way!" That's not very encouraging, kids.

Going back to the film's Vietnam angle, Horus seems to play a similar role as Hilda. While Hilda serves the part of the shell-shocked refugee, Horus serves the role of the emotionally-wounded soldier. He's the vet who returns home with post-traumatic stress disorder, experiences violent flashbacks, and winds up in games of Russian Roulette.

Okay, he's not that far gone. Not yet. But he's definitely getting there.

My guess is that Horus' battles with the silver wolves go back a very long time. They're arch-enemies, with longstanding grudges to settle. Add in an isolated, meager existence with a crashed boat for a home, an ailing father, and some stupid cartoon bear, and you've got a molotov cocktail on your hands. True, Horus is ultimately victorious and finally unites the village. But he still has to deal with the scars.

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