The Jungle Book (2016) is a masterful adaptation of Kipling’s book, paying due homage to the classic Disney film with its meshing of the familiar soundtrack with exquisitely-rendered new visuals.
It is also a tale of growing up in a dangerous world, of fulfilling one’s telos or true end, and of choosing to practice virtue instead of being consumed by vices which enslave us and lead us to harm others.
[Caution: Spoilers ahead]
Shere Khan is gripped by a burning anger, unable to forgive Mowgli’s father for scarring his face with a firebrand in self-defense. The tiger’s hatred of men is boundless, extending to the innocent Mowgli who was a mere toddler when Shere Khan killed his father. Khan’s insatiable wrath isolates him, making him feared by the other creatures of the jungle, while he spends each day in a terrible rage, enslaved by his fixation on ending Mowgli’s life.
It should in fact be Mowgli who hates Shere Khan for killing his father and hunting him relentlessly, but Mowgli does not seek revenge on Khan even after learning the truth from the serpent Kaa. Even when Mowgli hears of the wolf Akela’s death, he only wants to face Khan and stop him from further devastating the wolf pack for letting the boy walk free. Mowgli even places himself in mortal danger by hurling his torch into the water so as not to frighten the other animals. By this act of making himself vulnerable, Mowgli wins back the trust of the others, although he has accidentally set their forest on fire, and they all band together to fight against Khan. In contrast to Khan, Mowgli only resorts to killing his opponent in self-defense – and by indirect means, allowing Khan’s own rage to fuel his fall into the fire. Furthermore, Mowgli does not allow his losses and scars to bind him in brooding rage over the past, although Khan has twice robbed him of father-figures and his home. He goes on to lead a happy life in the jungle, in the company of his assorted friends.
Similarly, Satan is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8) with an undying enmity against the human race (Genesis 3:15), and we are to be ever vigilant against his attacks on our souls; there are times in the spiritual life when we must flee in order to preserve our virtue (as St Thérèse did once)1, and there are times when we must take courage and face the adversary, overcoming him with the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit. Satan knows no peace – Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell2 – but is possessed by a terrible rage against mankind. Yet, when we stand together as the Body of Christ, instead of being divided by fear, we will not succumb to his deadly rule, but will win through to everlasting life in the heavenly communion of saints.
As Satan lured Eve by inciting her lust for the forbidden fruit, of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3:5), Kaa lures Mowgli with the knowledge of his past, seducing him with lies that he is safe with her. Of course, the python only sees him as a tasty morsel to be gobbled up. (In the book, Kaa is male and a mentor of Mowgli’s.) Kaa is so fixated on her prey that she is unable to react in time when Baloo the bear chances upon them and saves Mowgli from certain death.
Baloo is a sloth bear who lazes around, trying to use monkeys to procure honey for him. He initially lies to Mowgli too, taking advantage of him and allowing him to be stung horribly all over while obtaining honeycombs. However, unlike the other predators in the jungle, Baloo gives Mowgli his freedom to leave whenever he likes, and Mowgli chooses to stay with the bear, forging a firm friendship as they forage for food. Yet, Baloo still uses Mowgli to pander to his gluttony, claiming that he will starve in hibernation if they do not store enough honey. Bagheera the panther, Mowgli’s mentor, turns up and points out that Baloo does not hibernate. Happily, Baloo is ultimately virtuous and self-sacrificing, overcoming his fear of heights to save Mowgli from his next mishap.
King Louie the monstrous orangutan is possessed by greed and envy, longing for “man’s red flower” so that he can rule over the entire jungle, although he already has plenty more than enough, with the simians of the forest waiting on him hand and foot. He wants to be like man, “on top of the food chain”. His boundless lust for power is his downfall, for in trying to capture Mowgli, Louie destroys his own palace and is buried in the ruins of his home.
In the end, each villain meets their downfall through self-absorption and overweening pride, hankering after something not rightfully theirs; each hero triumphs through humility, overcoming their shortcomings and embracing their true strengths. Bagheera tells Mowgli to fight Khan as a man, not a wolf, and Mowgli, though physically much weaker than any of the animals, triumphs by exercising his intellect, exploiting his fearsome opponent’s weakness and using Khan’s wrath against himself. Similarly, when we are beset by fears and discouragement, we can turn it against Satan, offering up our suffering in union with Christ so that the Kingdom of God may triumph in the hearts of men. As delineated in Plato’s Republic, the body is in harmony when the intellect governs the emotions and the appetites; there is justice in the body politic when each part of society works together for the common good. Then we shall rid our homes of the scourge of evil, and live in peace with all of God’s creation.
Image: The Disney Wiki
1 Story of a Soul Ch. 9: “I thought that if I began to justify myself I should certainly lose my peace of mind, and as I had too little virtue to let myself be unjustly accused without answering, my last chance of safety lay in flight.”
2 John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV, l. 75.