So what’s with all the evil bunny suits?

October 12, 2006

The phenomenon can no longer stay unnoticed: What is it with the recent prevalence of sinister-looking bunny suits in indie films? I see evil man-rodents everywhere! Don’t you?

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Spot the difference: Donnie Darko & Starfish Hotel

The movie that unofficially kicked off this subliminal trend may have been Gummo (1997), which featured a creepy kid with large bunny ears. Three years later, audiences were haunted by Gal Dove’s long-eared ghost from the past in Jonathan Glazer’s Sexy Beast (2000). Next up was spirit animal Frank in the cult-favorite Donnie Darko (2001), and then “The Mysterious Bunny Man” in Cabin Fever (2002) reared its ugly head. Meanwhile, David Lynch – never one to waste a good surreal image – treated the visitors of his website to a stage with a family in rabbit costumes in his curious sitcom Rabbits (2002). Much to the confusion of Geoffrey Macnab, Lynch appears to have incorporated similar sequences in his latest feature film Inland Empire (2006), offering no explanation whatsoever. And if the aforementioned titles convinced you that we’re dealing with a typical Anglo-Saxon phenomenon, the recent release of the Japanese supernatural detective thriller Starfish Hotel (2006) and this South-Korean poster for Chan-Wook Park’s upcoming film I’m A Cyborg will no doubt change your mind.

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Left: Gummo, right: Sexy Beast

But that’s not all. Something similar seems to be going on in the realm of music videos. Just watch Pink’s Just Like A Pill, Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty, or Do You Realize by The Flaming Lips. Distressingly enough, the evil-bunny-suit fever is currently spreading out over the Internet, infecting esoteric cinephiles in the blogosphere (source: Greencine Daily‘s David Hudson).

How are we to take this odd phenomenon? Is it a metoo effect? Plain old ripping off? In an interview held by fellow-blogger Ross Ruediger at The Rued Morgue, Firecracker director Steve Balderson discourages the plagiarism accusation:

Say I’m inspired by a surrealist piece of art where there’s a man wearing a giant stuffed-animal costume. Let’s say I wanted to incorporate that idea into my movie. Well, some might say I stole the idea from Donnie Darko, which features a person dressed in a stuffed-animal costume. Or, others might suggest I’m trying to be David Lynch because he did the same thing with Naomi Watts dressed in a bunny outfit.

By focusing on things like that, people will fail to recognize what it is that I’ve done. Never mind I’ve never seen the David Lynch scene with Naomi Watts. Never mind that my inspiration had nothing to do with Donnie Darko. What I think would be more interesting is if one would ask the question: What drives an artist to arrive at a similar conclusion? Where did the choice originate to put someone in a stuffed-animal costume? By answering that question, and appreciating what is on screen all in and of itself, the viewer will get more out of it.

Amen to that. So, leaving aside Balderson’s fictional example of that “surrealist piece of art,” what is the real origin of cinema’s ongoing fascination for people in stuffed-animal costumes? Are we facing the painful aftereffects of a generation of filmmakers traumatized over Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Probably not… Although some people have pointed out eerie similarities between Donnie Darko and the film Harvey (1950), in which James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd has an imaginary six foot rabbit friend, much like Donnie has Frank. Writer-director Richard Kelly, however, claims he has never seen the Jimmy Stewart film (nevermind the Bruce Willis remake) and that his Frank was inspired by the novel Watership Down.

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Harvey: Early blueprint for
the current man-rodent craze?

Eli Roth – who insists that his screenplay for Cabin Fever was written in 1995, long before Donnie Darko came out – names a completely different source of inspiration in an interview with Rebecca Murray:

ROTH: The Bunny Man was very influenced by The Shining. There’s a scene in The Shining where Shelley Duvall’s running around the hotel and she sees these creepy things. There’s a guy in a bear suit who is just really, really, really weird. It always stuck with me as a kid so it’s kind of my little nod to The Shining.
MURRAY: But that was a bear, and this is a bunny. Why the change to a bunny?
ROTH: We just couldn’t find a bear suit. I think that there’s something very evil about a bunny suit.

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Cabin Fever

The quote above tells me that, as far as this little investigation is concerned, a focus on direct influences will lead us nowhere. Maybe we should be digging deeper. Perhaps there is something about the image of a person in a rabbit outfit that resonates for these filmmakers on a level even they cannot quite fathom. As unlikely as it may seem, maybe we just need to accept the possibility that evil man-rodents are… in the air.

What’s that, am I being too vague? Well, prepare for a dip into Donnie Darko territory as I indulge myself in a little game of pseudo-scientific free-association.

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David Lynch’s Rabbits

With his innovating theory of morphic resonance, the controversial British biologist Rupert Sheldrake proposes that self-organizing systems of all levels of complexity – atoms, molecules, crystals, organelles, cells, tissues, organs, organisms, societies, ecosystems, planetary systems, solar systems, galaxies – are shaped by morphic fields that contain an inherent memory. In the human realm, Jung referred to this as the collective unconscious. The process of morphic resonance takes place when phenomena – particularly biological ones – become more probable the more often they occur, so that growth and behaviour are guided into patterns laid down by previous similar organisms. In other words: much of what we are, think and do is inherited without us realizing it. A constantly updated pool of collective memory binds us even when we’re oceans apart. Seen from this angle, even mental activity and perception can be viewed as habits, and habits are subject to natural selection.

It begs the question: Can a successful creative idea cause a certain thinking pattern to spread and evolve into a habit? When one filmmaker has contemplated the use of a bunny suit for sinister effect, does it become easier for others to arrive at the same cinematic solution by simply tuning into the same wavelength? Call it “creative instinct,” “tapping into the Zeitgeist,” or “divine inspiration,” if you like. Wouldn’t such a theory (Gelderblom’s Hypothesis of Collective Inspiration–bring on the Nobel Prize, baby!) explain the contemporary wave of CGI-animated movies featuring domesticated furry animals heading back to the wild?

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Or am I simply behaving like the pattern-seeking animal that I am (to borrow Jim Emerson‘s favorite phrase) and is our unhealthy obsession with evil bunny suits, of all things, God’s idea of a practical joke on humanity? I’ll leave the final words to Richard Kelly’s Donnie and Frank:

DONNIE: Why do you wear that stupid bunny suit?
FRANK: Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?


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