Zootopia’s story has a splendid philosophical core, including profound moments of transformation. I’m still floored by it. There’s no way this wouldn’t get the deep dive here on Philosophical Tuesday. The last third of the film is nonstop inspiring and moving. And it starts with a simple apology.
Right after Gideon apologies for his actions as a youngster, and Judy acknowledges that she too knows about being a jerk, the two of them share a moment and a smile. It’s an absolutely lovely little touch. It is only brief moment, and it’s a moment held in silence, but that silence and their look speaks volumes: “this is complete for us now.” Boom. And this moment of completion is equally liberating for the both of them. Yes, both. Completion removes the unknown and hidden constraints from our view of life, constraints that also work to keep our identities set in place. For Judy, what is released may be somewhat obvious. For Gideon, in that moment, what is wiped clean is whatever guilt he may have been carrying since then. His actions that have been limited by trying to “make up for” that incident, or to “disprove” to both to himself and others that he is not a terrible fox, and even the limitations on his sense and experience of himself that stem from that voice in his head that says “I am a bad fox (and I have the evidence to prove it)”, they all get set aside. From that moment onward, he is able to create freely from within that clearing.
We don’t hear from Gideon again in the movie (or was he in the ending credits?*), but he’s set free.
Completion creates a new realm of possibility – not just a single possibility, but a whole expanse of possibilities. And to what extent those possibilities can reach we’ll see that with Judy. But in a moment, because first, we also have Nick’s transformation, out of Judy’s apology.
I really love how Nick and Judy’s history is essentially the same. Both were bullied and attacked due to their species and their ambitions, but both made vastly different decisions based on that incident. And their lives then went in vastly different directions. When Nick fills out the application in the police station, he’s indicating a desire, a wish, a hope, for something new… but it’s still built on the shaky ground of the past. It’s a wish that gets quickly dashed by a few words from a new found friend, words that reaffirm all he knows about the world, and about his place in it. It’s not only “I’m a predator, sly fox,” it’s also, “I can never trust anyone. I’m not wanted.”
Judy’s apology to Nick not only cleans up the mess she made between them at the press conference, but also allows Nick to complete for himself all the hangings on from the incident as a Junior Ranger. Judy was, of course, not there, those many years ago. But her apology creates the space for Nick to re-evaluate the decisions he made, to reconsider his world view and the identities he took on, and to, like Judy and Gideon, set them aside and create freely in that clearing. From the moment Judy begins apologizing, Nick has chosen. The very fact she’s returned and is willing to take that kind of responsibility is the catalyst. Nick begins to walk under the bridge (“Like water under the bridge”) and the further he goes, and the further Judy gets into her heartfelt apology, the bigger the clearing becomes. When he’s firmly on the other side, it’s complete. What he chose earlier in filling out that application comes rushing back in, and he chooses to not only be friends with Judy (and she joins him on the other side of the bridge), but chooses to create a new Nick from the world of possibilities that have opened up: to be caring, to be dedicated, to make a difference, to be a fully-grown Junior Ranger. All now created upon a solid foundation.
Every scene after that, he puts himself, without hesitation, in between danger and Judy.
We come now to that scene in the pit at the Natural History Museum… and wow.
Besides using the literal history of animal relations as a backdrop – a clever touch – the trust that Judy places in Nick, and more specifically, his muzzle, is remarkable. Even though it was ‘play acting’. Let’s be clear. From someone who, while talking big to her parents and only took the fox repellent to ‘make them be quiet’, then ensured she took it with her on the first day and never stopped carrying it with her, for that someone to let a fox take her by the neck like THAT – is huge. The clearing from Gideon’s apology (and in seeing her parent’s own growth in their working with Gideon), and from Nick’s generosity in forgiving her, has her be willing to put that level of trust in him. Amazing.
And, as before, it’s amazing for the both of them. The Junior Ranger kids had said “If you thought we’d ever trust a predator without a muzzle, you’re even dumber than you look.” They used the word trust specifically. For a prey species to be willing to give that level of trust to Nick intensifies and seals the completion.
What an insanely powerful moment in the story. It’s the crux of the caper coming to an end while also, and I’d say even more poignantly, being a huge moment for Judy and Nick, showing the depth of their transformations.
It should not be forgotten or omitted that these completions and transformations are also brought on by the other side of apology: forgiveness.
Judy goes from pretending everything is behind her and instead empathizes with Gideon. Nick could have held his grudge against Judy’s words, but he doesn’t. He too grants her the error, and forgives her. They both could have stayed right in their convictions, but they chose to take the plunge to see what’s possible. And through that generosity, miracles happen.
Given my recent musings about apologizing, and the amazing power therein, I am beyond tickled that along comes a movie with not just one, but these TWO amazing scenes of apology. I say again that these scenes are some of the most adult things I have seen in a movie in a long time. Period. Mr. Rogers would be proud (see 4:10 of this video). I give super kudos to the writers and directors for putting them in.
These scenes are amazing on so many levels. We have characters choosing to take responsibility and to apologize, and how they apologize are pretty darn good examples of how to. We have forgiveness and empathy. And we witness how the apologies alter the lives of the characters forever, as a good apology can.
It doesn’t always take apologies to cause transformation, but in those instances where an apology is appropriate, they can make a world of difference. And often we never know to what level our apology might provide a clearing for another, just as Judy’s did for Nick.
To all who worked on Zootopia and for the work that went behind it to craft a film with such an amazing intricate philosophical core, thank you.
In a film about anthropomorphic animals, you have taught us plenty about our humanity.
* If he wasn’t in the credits, wow, imagine how incredible it could be if he was. Imagine Gideon dancing with Judy’s parents, or, even more powerfully, dancing with some of Judy’s siblings, all having a good time…