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Review of The Jungle Book: Self-Identification & Truth

'If I want to be a wolf bad enough - it might just become true'

I took my son and daughter to see the recent film adaptation of Kipling's masterpiece, The Jungle Book. If all Westerners were to go, watch it and take notes this world would be a saner place.

The story is about a boy named Mowgli who self-identifies as a wolf. He attempts to race like wolves, eat like wolves, and pee like wolves - but he never fully succeeds. Those around him - who care for him - affirm Mowgli in his self-identification and help him live that out. In the book, his mother, Raksha, says ‘He shall live to run with the Pack and to Hunt with the Pack’ and similar sentiments are expressed in the film. Mowgli yearns to be a wolf and those around him celebrate his attempts to be such. They try to adjust the world to suit his inner feelings, so he can be happy.

But he’s not a wolf. He’s a boy. And no amount of self-identifying can change - what by nature - he is.

It’s Baloo (great voicing by Bill Murray here) who helps Mowgli become who he was destined to be. It's ironic, for at the beginning, Baloo has no love for the boy – he simply wants to use him to get more honey. But he does for Mowgli what he truly needs. Instead of changing the outer world to suit Mowgli’s desire to be a wolf, he helps Mowgli come to terms with what he was created and destined to be – a man.

The wolves – who had genuine affection for Mowgli – allowed him to live in a delusion because it was comfortable. They cheered him on when he howled or did anything wolf like. But though Baloo had less affection for Mowgli – at least at first – it was he who helped him the most.

It was only when Mowgli gave up his comfortable delusions that he could stand against the great tiger Shere Khan – the one who had killed his father. As long as he lived inside his happy inner-wolf world, he was never able to face the monsterous cat. Only when he gave up the illusions, could he then face an evil that existed outside of him.

We all have self-identification issues. We like to imagine ourselves in ways that are simply not true. We do what we can to adjust to the world around us to verify these fantasies. For example…

  • The mediocre poet who self-identifies as a great poet will shy away from robust criticism of her work and only show those poems to friends whose affection for her will cause them to say only glowing things. 
  • The boy / man who is socially unsuccessful may indulge in porn to help feed his fantasy that he is popular, desirable and successful with women.
  • I never step on a bathroom scale so that I don’t have to end my fantasies about being in better shape then I really am.
In the film, it is the characters who face the truth of who they are to that we end up loving. Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and Raksha all change their minds in this regard. But Sheer Khan does not change his mind. He prefers his self-affirming delusion. He continues to self-identify as the undefeatable and indestructible king of the jungle – and this delusion is the death of him.

The Bible has a word for when people change their inner attitudes and character to appropriately deal with the world as it is. ‘Repentance’. It means changing our hearts and minds in submission to the truth – an often painful process.

When we fail to repent, it’s because we love the inner comforts of our delusions and self-identifications more than the truth itself – and we’ll change everything around us to help us validate them.

Not only was Baloo the one who helped Mowgli come to terms with the truth, but he was the first one to face Sheer Khan in battle in order to rescue him. He received a terrible wound to the neck and almost died to save the boy. He gave the boy both truth and grace.

We love these stories in fiction, but there is one who stands in true history - one who really did lay down his life for others. He says, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’
For more on living with godly courage in an ungodly and intimidating nation, please check out our book Elijah Men Eat Meat: Readings to slaughter your inner Ahab and pursue Revival and Reform 


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