The Biggest Little Farm
John Chester, Molly Chester, animals
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…a synecdoche of the world’s ecosystem, portrayed through the cyclical design of a singular farm, and imbued with enough sheer optimism that it proves quite infectious.
Like with most stories, the moment that gets The Biggest Little Farm rolling is a deceptively simple one: husband and wife John and Molly Chester want to give their dog a good home, one where it won’t keep running into problems with the neighbours and their landlord. Seeing this as an opportunity to fulfill one of their dreams, they decide to pack it all up and start a farm. A very big, very diverse, very insanely-riddled-with-complications farm.
Built on the foundation of John’s experience in nature photography, the film is bursting with vibrant wildlife, making everything from the hardened dirt they first have to work with, to the eventual flourishing, to the numerous, numerous shots of animals crapping look quite appealing. This is aided by the occasional animated interjections, furthering this film as a real-life example of the Old McDonald nursery rhyme.
And it is an example forged out of forehead sweat and primeval clockwork, as John and Molly’s quest to make the land tenable gives an insightful look at biodiversity in action. From live birth to accidental death, from irksome predators to unlikely allies, the way that the farm’s ecosystem is shown puts emphasis on all the little pieces it consists of. The main livestock, their animal protectors, the various crops within ‘the Fruit Basket’, the outside forces of coyotes and freak weather, even the snails crawling up the fruit trees; it’s all part of a larger whole, with each obstacle faced serving as another chance to put the puzzle pieces together.
It’s also all kinds of adorable, to the point where post-film conversations will likely consist mainly of which animal is cutest. While making Pyrenees guardian dogs and a marching army of ducks look appealing isn’t exactly that hard, the centrepiece of Emma the pig shows the film’s empathy at full force. John has a mantra of observing nature to see what happens, and with Emma, he seems to have stumbled onto a genuine character arc. It’s rather surreal to think that Emma’s personality is better fleshed out here than far too many characters are in mainstream big-screen fiction.
Getting the audience onside and caring for the animals involved also adds to the film’s bigger picture, which boils down to two people wielding an almost-blinding level of idealism and putting in the work to make it manifest. With everything that gets thrown at them, even making John question his own ideals in the process, their want for a simpler and eco-friendly existence is what pushes them forward. In John’s own words, “intent alone is not a protector”, and he certainly backs that up so that his own loftiness doesn’t just amount to empty words.
What we get out of all this is a synecdoche of the world’s ecosystem, portrayed through the cyclical design of a singular farm, and imbued with enough sheer optimism that it proves quite infectious. Given current concerns regarding our own treatment of the environment, this offers some real compost for thought.