Sacrosanctity and the Swamp: A Reading of Plato’s Chora in Shrek

March 15, 2019

In discussing the raison d’être of his first philosophical essay, Albert Camus described “The Myth of Sisyphus” as “a lucid invitation to live and to create, in the very midst of the desert.” Identifying a metaphysical locus of existence operating along the basis of a negation of the concrete, Camus works within a philosophical tradition that can be traced back to Plato and his identification of chora: a netherworld between the physical and theoretical. Chora, in a sense, works as an understanding of the paradoxical nature that we live in: the fact that as beings we exist internally, but are subjected to an existence that is imbued with externality. It is the juncture of where our consciousnesses meets with the physicality of reality, what Andrew Mellon in “The Eremitic Citizen as An-Chora-Ite in St. Athanasius’ Life of St. Antony” identifies as “...a retreat from the spatial and temporal world and an entry into pure and abstract space.” In the film “Shrek,” it is embodied by the swamp.


For Shrek, his swamp constitutes a locus of the sacrosanct. It is his place of refuge, solitude, and sanctuary. We see throughout the first “Shrek” film the eponymous hero constantly struggle to keep his swamp clear of unwanted intruders. He threatens the faithful Donkey, freeloading in his home after being abandoned by his owner, stating that “I live alone! My swamp! Me! Nobody else!” Later, faced with a myriad of fairytale creatures displaced from their homes by Lord Farquaad, he attempts to waive them away shouting the now-immortal line: “What are you doing in my swamp?” What becomes evident throughout the course of the film is that Shrek’s swamp embodies the Platonic notion of chora and acts as a desert for Shrek’s cognizance.


 PHOTO COURTESY OF GEOCACHING                      


In the beginning of “Shrek,” we are introduced to a highly territorial and quite moody ogre. He enjoys the peaceful quiet of his swamp, going through his morning routine without bother. For him, the constitution of his swamp is relative to “the idea of interiority” as “the stumbling block of [his] consciousness.” Shrek lives within himself, spending his time alone, and when threatened by the angry mob of a village, entertains himself by terrifying those who dared to enter his sacred domain. The film’s plot, which places Shrek outside of his comfort zone on a whirlwind adventure to rescue Princess Fiona and defeat the vile Lord Farquaad (while making a few friends along the way), imbues the story with a sense of tension that is not resolved until a return to the swamp, his “abstract space of interiority.”


Yet, it is in that return to the swamp, that the film reveals itself to have melded internality with physicality. Though it may be construed that since the film shows Shrek the importance of friendship and companionship, as evident by the film’s closing number of a raucous party set to Smash Mouth’s cover of “I’m a Believer,” this view ignores the film’s “focus on interiority that [also] externalizes.” Like the experience of existence, living in an internal state directed by externality, “Shrek” demonstrates the role of chora as an “ontological horizon of manifestation.” What this signifies, is that the swamp is not demonstrative of Shrek’s internal makeup, but it also acts as the conduit for his eventual connection to the world. Though he feels threatened by the invasion of his personal desert when faced with unwanted strangers, Shrek learns to reconcile “the innermost depths of his being and consciousness” with the reality of that existence. Like Camus in “The Myth of Sisyphus,” “Shrek” attempts to place the locus of existence along the lines of a consciousness that at once lives within itself, but also “[materializes] as spatiality.” In this sense, Shrek affirms that existence, and ogres, are like onions; they have layers.


Jake is a senior History major with a double minor in Art History and French.

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