There’s No Happy Ending for This Animal Farm

Fairy tales hold a special place in storytelling, using fantasy to explore the philosophical conundrums that haunt our everyday life. And while nowadays fairy tales are associated with children for their family-friendly content and endings that are always happy ever after, these extraordinary stories can also be filled with blood and violence. Described as a dark fairy tale, Squeal explores the limits of freedom in a society moved by violence, where the only perspective of success comes from the hope of one day being on the other side of the beating stick. And while the film’s central theme echoes very human concerns, Squeal also leads us to think about another kind of domination, the one imposed on animals.

Previously known as Samuel’s Travel, Squeal follows Samuel (Kevin Janssens), a man who gets lost in Eastern Europe, only to be captured by a farming family and forced to live like a pig. Parallel to Samuel’s misadventures, the movie also explores the escape attempts of a small piglet, who has some human-level intelligence and is capable of rudimentary communication. Samuel and the piglet are united in their unfortunate condition, locked on a farm, sleeping in the dirt, and eating whatever their owners decide to feed them. And as we watch both creatures suffer similarly, we can’t help but think about how animals are still reduced to the position of objects to be owned, even if they are sensible beings, with their own kind of fears and desires.

Samuel’s condition is so disturbing because he’s reduced to an inhuman position. The pig farmer’s daughter Kirke (Laura Siliņa) claims to love the handsome foreigner, but she still keeps him in a chain, naked, deprived of every trace of dignity. Samuel is also frequently beaten when he refuses to listen or shows rebellion. Kirke expects blind obedience from her new pet, and while her love seems to be genuine, it’s unsettling to see her submit Samuel to cruel treatment while claiming to protect him from the dangers of the woods. The only thing that can justify this apparent hypocrisy is Kirke’s belief that Samuel is not more than a thing to be manipulated, just like the pigs on her farm. And if Samuel doesn’t deserve his sad condition, maybe the pigs don’t deserve it either.

More than questioning the horrors of an animal farm, Squeal also uses its dark fairy tale to make a point about humanity’s power struggles. Samuel won’t be the only human reduced to the position of a (mistreated) animal, and the objectification of people and beasts alike is part of the disputes between different farmers. Everyone wants to be the smartest and strongest person around, which usually means tricking each other and even destroying other people’s property. The world’s savagery forces the new generation to become savages themselves, or else they’ll be just like any other farm animal on their way to slaughter after a life in the mud.

It’s also worth mentioning that Squeal also subverts expectations by having a male victim. Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s), Pascal Laugie’s Martyrs, Lucky McKee’s The Woman, Ben Young’s Hounds of Love… There are so many movies – more or less successful – about a woman getting kidnaped and trapped for some twisted motive that the “bunker woman” is already a recognized trope. So, it’s somewhat refreshing to follow a story that inverses the genre roles by featuring a woman taking a man captive, only to tame him into submission.

And speaking of submission, Squeal’s fairy tale also explores voluntary captivity, asking how much of our self-esteem we are willing to trade for a comfortable life. While the woods are dangerous and can destroy poor piglets wandering alone, they also allow creatures to be truly free. On the other hand, the farm offers a roof, food, and some caring company. All you need to do to enjoy these small comforts is give up your freedom, an act that can be equally painful and pleasurable. Movie

By comparing the human and animal conditions, Squeal creates a dark fairy tale that forces us to contemplate the everyday violence that different living beings are subject to. While maybe incidentally advocating for animal rights, the movie actively tries to discuss the dynamics of abusive relationships, in which one part has complete power over the well-being of the other. While these relationships can be cruel and vicious, they can also represent a place where someone can give away their freedom and all the worries that come with the possibility of choice. Contrary to modern fairy tales, Squeal doesn’t have a clear moral lesson, giving the viewer the hard work of reaching their own conclusions. That’s part of what makes Squeal so enticing, as the film allows multiple readings about vile work structures, the possibility of being happy in an abusive relationship, animal abuse, and even the meaning of freedom itself. Streaming Online

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