WATERSHIP DOWN does absolutely no holding of hands. It’s naturalist, it’s visceral and it showcases the absolute fleeting idea of nature. Death is quick and sudden most of the time and when it isn’t, like a scene where a rabbit is caught in a snare it’s brutal because it’s a slow process of dying.
In adapting Richard Adams’ novel, director Martin Rosen could have easily removed the elements that make this film seem disturbing for audiences, especially children. Yet Rosen keeps all this intact because when you look at it, WATERSHIP DOWN is life. Nature is life and when nature is in action it may not be pretty or makes you feel good, but it is what it is. This film also succeeds is putting you in the fur of animals and what goes through their minds as humans evolve and expand and build and our actions displaces countless warrens. It also provides a great real world analogy with a rabbit so determined to keep his people safe, he abuses and oppressed them. The film doesn’t anthropomorphize the animals, but it does seek to enter the human element so that we get a better comprehension.
What keeps this from being so depressing? I think it’s because the opening of the consists of the establishment of the rabbits beliefs. Whether you call it, faith, religion, spirituality or mythology, the rabbits believe in something bigger than themselves and because of that, death is a pet of life. Considering that it comes so swiftly to them, I can understand their taking belief as a comfort much as I do.
WATERSHIP DOWN completely trusts it’s audience. It doesn’t make the dog a bumbling fool that the rabbits outsmart. It’s an animal that does what it’s supposed to do. It’s no villain. Even humans themselves are not portrayed as “evil” just as a force that nature contends with. It shows life and the world truly as it is.