Life is one long insane trip. Some people just have better directions.
– tagline to the film Donnie Darko
The City of Dreams
Vienna, Austria is known as the “City of Dreams” because Sigmund Freud lived there. What a wonderful epithet. As I wandered the city and chanced upon a costume store, featuring Guy Fawkes dressed as the Easter Bunny, I did get the sense I was dreaming, and that some deep symbolism was conveying itself to my unconscious mind. It reminded me of the Cheshire Cat scene in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
Cheshire Cat: In that direction, lives a Hatter: and in that direction, lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.
Alice: But I don’t want to go among mad people.
Cheshire Cat: Oh, you ca’n’t help that; we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.
Alice: How do you know I’m mad?
Cheshire Cat: You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.
I could imagine Guy-Fawkes-as-Easter-Bunny and I having just such a conversation, as I stood on that chilly Viennese street. Only he was the March Hare.
The Hare in Myth
The “Easter Bunny” is a modern mythological depiction of an ancient symbol of Spring. The hare, an animal associated with the nature goddesses of pre-Christian Europe, represents fertility, the beginning of new life, the mysteries of life and death, and transformations. The hare, (along with the cat, which supplanted the hare as a goddess symbol and absorbed all of the symbols and associations of the hare), was long considered an animal of witchcraft and the supernatural. It is easy to see how such a strong symbol of many suppressed aspects of society should become aligned with insanity. “Bugs Bunny,” after all, literally means “Mad Hare,” when you think about it.
Native Americans tribes, among many other peoples the world over, viewed the hare as a Trickster. He was both an agent of chaos and an ancient god of revealed wisdom and power. Native American legends claim that Rabbit (Hare) stole fire from the gods, Promethean-style, and gave it to humans. Since Easter falls around the Spring Equinox, you could say that the Easter Bunny is bringing fire, the renewed warmth of the sun, to people, along with the eggs he bestows, symbols of renewed life and fertility.
Guy Fawkes, Revolutionary and Fire God
Fire, of course, is itself a powerful symbol of the life-force and transformation. Even though Guy Fawkes, as a man of history, simply participated in a failed political plot, he has become a symbol of fire in many ways:
First, he is burned in effigy on bonfires in Britain, accompanied by fireworks, every November. The parallel to pre-Christian pagan fire rituals is inescapable. Guy Fawkes is essentially, in those rituals, a pagan man-god sacrifice. Such human sacrifices in ancient times often were intended to secure the fertility and rebirth of the land, resonating strongly with the “message” of Easter. (It is in this sense that J.K. Rowling named Dumbledore’s pet phoenix “Fawkes,” as the phoenix is a mythological bird that is reborn in a bonfire.) Of course, Guy Fawkes, the historical man, also plotted to use massive amounts of gunpowder to blow up the English Parliament, an act that in and of itself is a fire ritual, intended to “transform” the political landscape, to bring England to re-birth as a Catholic country.
Secondly, Guy Fawkes has enjoyed a revival in recent years as a symbol for the Occupy Movement, and the Arab Spring. The reason for this seems to stem from the film “V for Vendetta,” in which a revolutionary character uses a Guy Fawkes mask to hide his identity while fighting an oppressive government. Guy Fawkes masks have been routinely worn in protest rallies worldwide in the last several years to protect the identities of the protesters, and to project the symbolic ideas behind Guy Fawkes himself. These ideas encompass revolution (transformation through fire), and freedom of thought.
It isn’t so unusual, by the way, for folk festivals to acquire political connotations, or for political ideas to morph into folk festivals. A certain social energy is infused in both. In Turkey and Iran, the spring festival of Nowruz (a kind of Central Asian Easter), has frequently been suppressed, censored, or “disapproved” by their respective governments. The festive celebration of the coming of spring represents a social yearning for life as it was before current governments came to power, and may represent the nationalist sentiments of ethnic minorities against the ruling majority. (Bonfires, by the way, are a common ritual element of the celebration of Nowruz.) “Madness” in this case simply means “not conforming to majority consensus reality.” Some people would rather dream of a new reality for their people. But of course that’s the kind of madness the Trickster brings, right?
Donnie Darko and the Rabbit Man
Donnie: Why do you always wear that stupid bunny suit?
Frank: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?
– Donnie Darko
One of the reasons Guy Fawkes-as-Easter-Bunny had me questioning my sanity and thinking I was dreaming, was because he reminded me suddenly of the Rabbit Man in the mind-bending film “Donnie Darko.”
In this film, a young man named Donnie Darko is considered mentally ill by his community because he believes he is frequently visited by a man in a rabbit costume named Frank, who instructs him to commit acts of sabotage. Frank’s costume is frightening; the head resembles a skull with rabbit ears. He appears to Donnie in dreamlike trance states.
Towards the end of the film, Donnie realizes that his world is falling apart, and he finally converses with Frank. When he asks him to remove his rabbit mask, Frank responds by insinuating that it is Donnie who is living a false life. Frank removes his mask to reveal that he is also a young man, but with an eye traumatically missing.
In Norse myth, Odin must lose an eye in order to acquire the wisdom he needs to prevent the destruction of the world. The loss of an eye and/or blindness in myth symbolizes “inner vision,” or self-understanding, a necessary component of wisdom. Personal sacrifice often occurs in myth as the “price that must be paid” to gain something of great value to oneself or one’s community. Donnie at last understands that to return his world to balance and harmony, he must sacrifice his false self. In so doing, he rescues his entire community from a negative reality and restores their universe.
In the film poster, the Frank’s rabbit mask clearly resembles the “V” sign, a hand gesture used to convey political sentiment in both dissent, resistance, revolution, and the fight for freedom. Donnie Darko is a psychological, inner-world version of revolution; (an inner jihad). It’s about the transformation of consciousness on a psychological, rather than political, field.
But the Mad Hare hops along both quite easily, encouraging us to dream with the fire of our imagination.
Frank: I can do anything I want, and so can you.
– Donnie Darko