This is a tough movie for most people to watch. When we think of an animated film featuring rabbits, our minds gravitate to "cute-and-fluffy". But Watership Down has many episodes of violence, bloodshed and death.
Still, it is an epic adventure in its own right – not just the main story of a group of rabbits finding a new home, but the rich detail of lapine culture, language and folklore drawn from Richard Adam’s book. The rabbits worship the creator-god Frith, represented by the sun, and revere their mythical progenitor El-ahrairah. Fiver, the younger brother of the chief protagonist Hazel, is a seer with powerful instincts. Rabbit warrens are structured societies, complete with a police force called an owsla.
The journey to their new home is not an easy one. First, Hazel and Fiver must convince other rabbits that their home warren is in danger. Then the small band they assemble must find their way to a new home, guided by Fiver's visions and Hazel's cunning. They are welcomed into another warren, only to find that the farmer in the area routinely catches them. Finally, they reach the hill of Fiver's visions – only now they have no females, so they must figure out where to recruit some. Another rabbit joins them, and tells them of a totalitarian warren called Efrafra, run by the ruthless General Woundwort. A plan is devised to infiltrate the Efrafrans and recruit some of its members to join them, leading to a confrontation.
It's long been debated whether this movie is suitable for children to watch. I personally think that it's better for older kids, not just because of the violence, but the complexity of the story. And yes, I think it's an important film for Unitarian Universalists to watch.
This is a story about risk, and specifically about the need of communities to take risks in order to survive and thrive. Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and other rabbits decide indeed to take the risk – based on their knowledge of how reliable Fiver's visions and instincts have been – to find a new home, and even to fight for its safety. Their opposite is found in the rabbit Cowslip, preferring the easy life of feeding on a farmer's plenty while turning a blind eye to his warren's members being killed by the farmer’s snares.
The early Unitarians and Universalists were risk-takers. It took risk to assert the radical stances in theology and social ethics that they did, to form new religious communities, and eventually to merge under one association. Affirming GLBT equality was also risky, but in the long run changed not only our own faith communities but our nation for the better. And yet … How many congregations, ministers and others cling to old ways of doing things because they seem safe? How many times do we observe abuses in leadership, yet refuse to speak up for fear of being labeled a troublemaker?
Like Hazel's warren, we’re a small scrappy band, our members drawn from many places. But our vision of beloved community may offer hope and guidance – if we are willing to accept that achieving such a vision requires taking a risky journey. Even standing still, while seemingly comfortable, entails a number of inevitable risks. Thus the question is not simply whether we’re willing to risk, but what is truly worthy of taking risks.