Shrek is a comedy & an American family movie. Shrek, we remember, enjoys what disgusts us. We like him, although we behave… His stallion is really an ass; worse is said of his princess; his swamp is his castle. When it comes to inheriting the kingdom, he rather would not.
Unlike Shrek, we like to take things out of their natural places & whimsically rearrange them. Our power is like the piper’s: we make things do things they would not otherwise do. Then ugly nature will take its revenge; our ignorance will have earned it… Our gadgets to the contrary notwithstanding, we are midgets with delusions of heady grandeur. Always & ever, the ogres try to destroy us if we try to destroy them.
Let’s follow a comic suggestion & reverse cause & effect. Let’s reverse the order of the two parts of the story: Shrek did not first want to escape domestication & become wild again & then the kingdom was tyrannized – it really happened the other way around. To turn things inside out: The start of the movie is the end of the movie; the reality we see in the beginning is revealed in the end to be the dream of the reality in the middle, which had first seemed a nightmare. It is the real nightmare.
Heroes are like ogres, the comic reversal suggests. But bad manners in solitude are healthy – good manners would make no sense. – No wonder Shrek is good-natured: nothing makes him feel weak & powerless. Except in this last story, where he is perpetually afraid: it is the end, because it is not heroic. The horror of incoming death & the realization that men cannot stop it resign Shrek to his domestication: the nightmare is over. Comfortable self-preservation is the reality. He trades manliness for security.
This time, the problem is domesticating manliness. But men have bad manners, are unclean, they have no interest in a civilization they do not need for protection, are quite happy, & do not hurt anybody. Nature may be an odorous swamp, unseemly, a mix of pleasures & unpleasant things – but is not conniving, cowardly, & deceptious. Men may be simple, but not petty. Our sophistication does not prove us right, but it may deceive us. These odd animals do not fit with us, but they mean us & do us no harm, & in fact may save us yet. Their perspective is not marred by fears & unreasonable hopes: they are quite capable of dealing with the world & look to happiness without shame or cynicism. Or at any rate, that’s the state of nature for the solitary man.