About halfway through this summer’s astonishing Far From the Madding (sic) Crowd, the director’s cut prequel to Disney’s Babe, Tom Hardy stands up, dusts off his overall pants and declares, ‘Frankly, my dear, you are an exaggeration!’ and my one thought was that Tom (if I may call you Tom) has finally been able to stretch his wings and fully swoop into a role with the gusto of the Shakespearian training he acquired in his years at The Julienne School in New York City. Or did handsome Tom graduate after only several months, a question his fish-to-water performance seems to beg? Whatever his training, it serves Tom excellently in this vernal blockbuster favorite, a true box of puppy biscuit treats, in which the actor slips into the role of the eponymous agriculturalist Mr. Madding (sic).
The story begins with heartbreak and tragedy: little Manny Pacquiao (not the boxer – the actor), playing the young Master Madding, is witness at the age of six to the trussing, torture, and brutal murder of his hand-fed blue-ribbon pet pig, Barns (Barney Pig), at the hands of his drunken and repugnant stepmother. This deeply scarring experience turns Master Madding into a brooding and silent vegetarian farmer who eschews all human contact and keeps pigs not for their meat but for their company, including his best friend Joe (Joseph Pig).
Many children will want to know whether pigs can talk in this movie, and I think it would not be a SPOILER to say that, yes, the pigs in this movie do talk, and that their conversations with Mr. Madding are essential for the development of the pathos, bathos, and ultimate wrath(os – sic) the viewer feels toward his character. Many adult viewers look down their snouts at talking animals, but it is a fact of life that many pet owners talk to their little darlings, and in that way Far From the Madding (sic) Crowd may be this year’s most realist, most accessible feature film.
The acting would be a pleasure to imbibe, if only it could be drunk, the cinematography is black and white, and the story moves quickly into the future, to a not-so-distant time when there is a war shortage and rationing of real meat and burgers. Tom and Joseph Pig soon find themselves fighting for their own lives and the lives of the brethren they have taken in, who actually just spend most of the movie cowering in a special bunker Mr. Madding has fashioned beneath his farmhouse. Many adults will wonder if the filming of Far From the Madding (sic) Crowd involved the exploitation or abuse of pigs, but I reassure you that all of the pigs survive the ordeal.
In the end this movie stands as a testament to radical vegetarianism and, although I myself have never been able to resist an extra order of crispy bacon when sitting down at the local Denny’s, I can appreciate the social and sentimental value of the ‘meat-is-murder’ message, and I encourage all parents everywhere to take their children to see this ‘Babe Zero’. It is dark, it is scary, it is excessively violent, and it is rated R so technically only available to those over the age of 16, but the child who watches this movie will nonetheless find its perspective forever and magically changed.
4 out of 5 puppies.
Photo of @Todd by Mitchell Kennedy.