Both shocking and stirring, Modest Mouse’s new video for their song “King Rat” truly fits the music piece itself. Stark illustrations reveal a whaling team set out to sea—only, instead of humans, they are actual whales, gruff and unflinching, much like human fisherman are often portrayed in reality television shows.
As the lyrics spin a scenario of unquenchable greed, the captain and his mates sneer and ready for their catch, following the smirking sun:
“…I took all that I desired, even crooks have to pay the rent. We swam like rats on fire right, right down the reservoir. We took all that we could carry but we tried to carry more.”
And while the team’s actions are despicable, they are also portrayed with a few loveable human characteristics—such as dancing on the ship. It’s as if they don’t see the humans they slaughter as people—or in this case, as whales.
Though it has been compared to the Zagreb School of Animation’s “Fisheye” video, the first thing that came to my mind was Hell in a Dr. Seuss book. You’ve got a Grinch-like sun, the signature wispy line drawings that always seemed to portray movement so well, and even the whatsit-machines that we’ve seen in tales such as The Lorax. And like such tales, “King Rat” proclaims a strong environmental message—though one that’s likely not appropriate for bedtime stories.
The gore and violence of whaling is depicted, certainly—and when the viewer comes upon the pod of creatures the whales are after, we expect to see humans and are not disappointed.
But unlike the sight of a whale being harpooned and slaughtered, we are able to see the palpable terror in each human’s face. While the emotions of a whale—though surely discernable by their fellow whales—are hard for our species to make out, the unmistakable horror of a human’s face upon seeing a loved one shot and ripped apart, the shock and dread realizing that he or she will be next, is undeniable. Simply put, this video puts the violence of whaling into a human perspective quite literally.
The video ends as hauntingly as it begins, with the bloody entrails of the slaughtered humans being neatly packed into small human-sized, happy-looking pet food. Just as we don’t see the torture, death and aftermath of whales as they are slaughtered when we use products with whales in them as oils, perfumes, food—and yes, even animal feed.
Ledger was reportedly sickened by the annual commercial whale hunts in Australia and outlined the entire video during a boat trip with family and friends.
During its first month of release, all of the proceeds from the “King Rat” video downloads at iTunes will go to the Sea Shephered Conservation Society.