When you study ancient Stoicism, you can’t help but start to see all manner of cultural conversations differently than you did before.
I’m finding this especially true of movies (and I’m not alone—Massimo Pigliucci has felt compelled to write a number of Stoic movie reviews this year), but boy oh boy is it true of Angry Birds, which premiered this weekend in the US.
In many ways it’s your standard film about a charming, imperfect, and all-too-relatable hero. Angry Birds is a delightful story about an awkward denizen of Bird Island who has an anger problem. The film tracks his progress from a dysfunctional member of the avian Utopia who is ordered by a judge to anger management class to the role of a hero: his anger turns out to be the critical tool that the birds need to protect themselves against the eggsistential threat of the big bad pigs!
At the story’s hinge moment, the entire bird community realizes that they are in over their head—and they turn to the outcast students of the anger management class (of all people!) as their teachers. In order to fight for justice, the birds want to be taught anger.
“This is not the time to be calm and detached!” announce the heroes, as a giant red bird with a violent past too horrible to describe points to a chalk board, showing the innocent birds how to be angry. This is the time to be non-calm, this is a time to care. By the end of the story, the birds have absorbed the film’s moral lesson into their mythology: a group of chicks sing a minstrel song about their hero, listing his virtues: “Bravery, humility, an-gaa-ry!”
The film is charming and heart-warming—by now you have seen many cartoons like it. I never knew there were so many ways to make anger look so cute and harmless!
At the same time, however, as a Stoic, I fundamentally disagree with the film’s moral premise: that if we care, if we want to fight for justice, we must be angry.