It’s your classic Beatrix Potter with a bit lot of Home Alone thrown in, and The War (but for a much younger audience). I was skeptical because of that. The previews looked like a lot of animosity and fighting and ill-will, and not in a good vs. evil kind of way, but between two decent beings. And it was. But isn’t this also reality? Sometimes it is a Home Alone kind of thing, where you are defending yourself against harm and it’s a definite good vs. evil. The reality, however, is that far more often we find ourselves in Peter’s shoes, embroiled in a battle against someone who is not the enemy. They aren’t evil, we just feel that they are. And then, because we see them as an enemy, they become one. Wars are like that. They escalate and they change people and they create enemies. I was skeptical, but having seen it, I stand corrected, or at least converted. Peter Rabbit is all those things, but it is all those things to make a point, a few points, perhaps, that are worth making.
In a nutshell, Peter and his siblings are orphaned because of Old Man McGregor who is portrayed as a mean old man—you know the story. (To be fair, however, the rabbits were coming on to his property and stealing from his garden. So, he felt justified in defending his veggies and his property from the rodents.) After his death, Peter felt he (and all the animals) should have the full rights to and free reign of the garden and all its bounty. McGregor’s nephew showed up, Thomas, who was pretty like-minded with his uncle. He wanted to rid the garden of the animals, too.
Peter could have tried to win over Thomas and make an ally out of him as he had done with Beatrix Potter next door, “Bea,” (or maybe she made a friend out of Peter—either way they were friends). But he didn’t. He, instead, determined to rid the neighborhood of McGregor. Two alpha-male types going into war, one-upping the other, justifying their actions by the “facts” of the injuries and insults they endured from the other. It was a vicious cycle, as all such fights are. Both were, in equal measure, motivated and blinded by pride.
At the heart of the fight was Bea. I mean, yes, the garden, and principle, and all sorts of things, but really, for Peter in particular, he finally saw that he had been lying to himself. He told himself that he was trying to protect Bea from Thomas (the two had formed a romance), but what it really came down to was that he didn’t want to share her. He was jealous. He had an orphaned heart that was afraid there would be less love for him if she gave her love to Thomas. Thomas didn’t want to share the garden; Peter didn’t want to share Bea. Stinginess creates wars.
As their war escalated, things got way out of hand, and in the process, the bunnies lost their home, and Bea’s heart was broken. Sometimes, you are so driven by bloodlust you don’t see the destruction until the losses are staggering. Peter had a dream one night of his dead parents, calling him out on the truth, that he was afraid to share Bea with Thomas. And they reminded him that they didn’t love him any less when his three siblings were born. Love multiples, it’s not a finite resource we need to hoard for ourselves.
When Peter set about making things right, it wasn’t just Thomas that he had to confess to. Thomas knew the truth. They were both to blame. And Peter certainly had to ask for Thomas’ forgiveness. He hoped he could stop there, however. He did not want to have to tell Bea the truth as well. Bea had sided with him, after all. She had believed him innocent and incapable of scheming. He was a dear, mute, little bunny, after all! She thought Thomas was crazy when he accused Peter of sabotaging his home. For things to be right, however, Peter had to confess. He had to come clean, about all of it. AND ask for her forgiveness. Which he did. Such a great message to see! We can fail terribly and recover. We can admit our faults and still be loved. We can find restoration and healing. Sometimes it’s hard to admit we are wrong because we don’t if anyone can love us if we are flawed.
This has SO many applications for us all, but I have to think specifically this movie is a great opportunity for parents and their children to talk through family changes—whether it’s the addition of another sibling, or a single parent who is trying to introduce a new spouse to the equation.
Here are some (nine) themes that stand out in the movie:
- Preconditioned—Peter was preconditioned to see the new McGregor as an enemy by his past. (His parents were killed by the last McGregor, for starters.) It’s easy to take offense when someone treats us as an enemy before they get to know us, but rather than taking offense, we might stop to wonder why. What have they gone through in their past to precondition them to see us in that light? Is it possible that our actions have supported those prejudices in their heart? How can we disarm them, and change their prejudices without entering into a battle and/or furthering their convictions that they are right to see us in that way? Also, consider the reverse scenario. When are we acting like Peter, assuming things about someone without getting to know them first? How are we preconditioned to see people negatively? What people (or circumstances) are we negatively biased against? Do you have people in your life who can let you know when you’re acting like Peter and not giving people the benefit of the doubt, judging them based on your past, rather than who they are?
- Defending our rights—Peter and Thomas both felt justified in the war they were fighting because they were just defending their rights. This pretty much always causes wars, and it never brings peace. Jesus tells us to love your neighbor as yourself. This means we don’t look only to our own rights, but also to the rights and perspectives of the other person. When we see things from their point of view, and value that point of view equal to our own, we bring peace. Bea did this. She didn’t just think about her rights to her property. She also thought about the animals and their needs for food and shelter…and their rights to the land. This affected how she treated the rabbits and opened her home to them…and it brought peace. When has defending your rights caused a fight in your life? Has it ever brought peace? Have you ever laid down your right to something in an effort to create peace?
- Orphan spirit—Peter was literally an orphan, but he also had an orphan spirit. He operated from a place of fear and stinginess. He was afraid he would lose Bea, too. When he finally realized she could love them both, things changed and he was able to love Thomas rather than see him as a threat. Have you ever been afraid that someone else was a threat to the love you receive from someone? Have you ever been motivated by fear and control and stinginess? How is that different from being motivated by love?
- Usually, there is blame to go around (part 1, for those in the fight)—Rarely are wars simply one-sided. When they are, we don’t call it a war, but abuse and bullying. Thomas and Peter both wanted to claim they were victims, but the reality is, they were in a war and in a war (unless it is truly a war between good and evil, but let’s face it—those are rare), there is plenty of blame to go around. As Thomas said, “[Peter] poked at me and poked at me until there was nothing left to do…” He said the truth, that Peter poked and poked and pushed him into a corner. He was wrong in saying that he had no choice. There is always a choice. He could have chosen to see Peter as a friend to be won, rather than an enemy to be conquered. In the end, reconciliation happened when they both admitted their part in the wrongs. Have you ever wanted to say that you were the true victim, but if you were honest, you had to admit you were to blame as well? What did you do?
- Usually, there is blame to go around, (part 2, for those observing the fight)—Not only did Thomas and Peter have to admit they both were to blame, but Bea needed to see that, too. When she was blind to Peter’s guilt, she covered for him and that caused even more problems because it infuriated Thomas. It seemed unfair and made him all the more determined to reveal the truth about Peter. Sometimes in our naivety we are part of the problem (fueling the problem) without even knowing it. We don’t have to be in the war to be a part of the war. It’s important for us to realize that usually both sides are at fault so that our eyes are open to the truth, lest we cover for one and infuriate the other.
- Creating enemies vs. creating allies—We always have a choice. Everyone we meet is either a potential friend or a potential enemy, depending on how we treat them. It’s not so much about how they start out in our lives or how they treat us, but about how we treat them and what they become. Thomas and Peter started out as strangers. They could have gone either way. Their actions created enemies of each other. It would have been easy to assume that could never change, but Peter made a shift. He determined to make a friend out of Thomas for the sake of Bea. This is what Jesus did when he decided to love His enemies. He made friends and family out of us for the sake of His Father. The truth is, we can’t control people’s responses, but we aren’t called to. We are simply called to do everything we can do to be at peace with all men. But, when we do that, most people will respond in time. Have you ever won over an enemy and made a friend out of them? Has anyone that you didn’t really like ever chosen to be kind to you so much so that you ended up becoming friends with them? Have you ever realized that everyone you meet is either a potential friend or potential enemy, based on the way YOU treat them?
- Stinginess creates enemies (and wars)—Peter was stingy with Bea. McGregor (both of them) was stingy with the garden. Had either of them treated the other with generosity rather than stinginess, nothing would have escalated and probably, they would have become friends and allies much sooner. How likely are you to get in a fight with someone who is generous? What about with someone who is stingy?
- It’s never too late to do the right thing and at least try to make things right—Sometimes we chicken out of doing the right thing because we assume it’s too late. We never know until we try. Peter didn’t consider if it was too late or not, he simply set out to do all he could to fix things…and fix things he did. One of my favorite things about God is that it’s never too late with Him. In Ezekiel 37 he takes a valley of old dry bones and makes a living army out of them. If it’s not too late for those dead people to come to life and fight a battle, then it’s never too late when God’s involved. No one is ever too far gone or too out of reach. We need to focus on what is the right thing to do, not whether or not it seems possible anymore. Are there any situations or relationships in your life that seem too far gone to bother with fixing?
- Confession and asking for forgiveness are not the same but they ought to go together—Sometimes we think that we confessing our wrongs is enough, but it’s not. (Or perhaps we are willing to ask for forgiveness but never actually admit what we did wrong.) Confessing involves admitting an ugly truth about ourselves, and asking for forgiveness involves humbling ourselves to someone else—both are hard. In Peter Rabbit, their way of asking for forgiveness is beautiful. They bow their head (which is a sign of humility) and then they touch their forehead to the person they are asking to forgive them, which is a sign of connection. In this way they both verbally and physically are being humble and restoring connection. It also means the other person is responding and restoring that person (or bunny). It’s beautiful. To have restoration after a falling out, both steps are needed. Do you find it easier to confess or to ask for forgiveness? Have you ever thought about your need to confess your sins to the Lord, and ask for His forgiveness…and restoration through Jesus’ death on the cross?
 If you haven’t seen The War, with Kevin Costner and Elijah Wood, 1994, it is one of my all time favorite movies. SO powerful.