Willard (1971): Two Takes

by Travis Jeppesen on November 22, 2012


  1. The Deleuzo-Guattarian Take

(Translation by Brian Massumi)


I recall the fine film Willard (1972, Daniel Mann). A “B” movie perhaps, but a fine unpopular film: unpopular because the heroes are rats. My memory of it is not necessarily accurate. I will recount the story in broad outline. Willard lives with his authoritarian mother in the old family house. Dreadful Oedipal atmosphere. His mother orders him to destroy a litter of rats. He spares one (or two or several). After a violent argument, the mother, who “resembles” a dog, dies. The house is coveted by a businessman, and Willard is in danger of losing it. He likes the principal rat he saved, Ben, who proves to be of prodigious intelligence. There is also a white female rat, Ben’s companion. Willard spends all his free time with them. They multiply. Willard takes the rat pack, led by Ben, to the home of the businessman, who is put to a terrible death. But he foolishly takes his two favorites to the office with him and has no choice but to let the employees kill the white rat. Ben escapes, after throwing Willard a long, hard glare. Willard then experiences a pause in his destiny, in his becoming-rat. He tries with all his might to remain among humans. He even responds to the advances of a young woman in the office who bears a strong “resemblance” to a rat – but it is only a resemblance. One day when he has invited the young woman over, all set to be conjugalized, reoedipalized, Ben suddenly reappears, full of hate. Willard tries to drive him away, but succeeds only in driving away the young woman: he then is lured to the basement by Ben, where a pack of countless rats is waiting to tear him to shreds. It is like a tale; it is never disturbing.

It is all there: there is a becoming-animal not content to proceed by resemblance and for which resemblance, on the contrary, would represent an obstacle or stoppage; the proliferation of rats, the pack, brings a becoming-molecular that undermines the great molar powers of family, career, and conjugality; there is a sinister choice since there is a “favorite” in the pack with which a kind of contract of alliance, a hideous pact, is made; there is the institution of an assemblage, a war machine or criminal machine, which can reach the point of self-destruction; there is a circulation of impersonal affects, an alternate current that disrupts signifying projects as well as subjective feelings, and constitutes a nonhuman sexuality; and there is an irresistible deterritorialization that forestalls attempts at professional, conjugal, or Oedipal reterritorialization. (Are there Oedipal animals with which one can “play Oedipus,” play family, my little dog, my little cat, and then other animals that by contrast draw us into an irresistible becoming? Or another hypothesis: Can the same animal be taken up by two opposing functions and movements, depending on the case?)


  1. The Object-Oriented Take


Rats. Mother doesn’t want to eat them. He wears a tie and nearly got run over. Bus moves on without him. Whole idea of situational agency. At least he has a mansion to go home to each night.

Clock always says the wrong time. Old people are here to help you celebrate yr birthday. A porn version of the movie Willard, rats and all…

Willard is basically an extrovert, only it’s all inside.

American tradition of infantilism lives on into old age. He sees a rat when he’s crying. Rat talks to him; at first he’s scared, but then he sees it’s the truth. Rat truth. Rat becomes his best friend, his lover. Mama the cripple don’t like no rats. She wants family drama played out her way and her way only. Mother demented in her Oedipal fascination. Son is the only thing she has left to keep her pussy wet. As soon as she is done controlling him, she will wilt over and die.

Willard missed the bus again. Willard has blonde hair. Willard sees the rats and falls in love. The big one will be his boyfriend.

The rat asks Willard a question. Why did you try to kill me? Willard runs back to his mom. He lies to his mom that the rats are dead. Willard needs a wife, she says.

Squeaky rat has no friends, so Willard taught it how to speak. Willard doesn’t need society; he has the rats. He calls the white one Socrates. Willard will become Plato. Mother suspicious that her son might be a masturbator. There is something in his pocket, she notes. He denies it. Mother can’t see Willard’s rattail.

The rats keep getting bigger and bigger. Bigger in number and bigger in size. Down in the basement, a whole colony starts up. The boss at work is a corrupt old fucker. Can’t keep his hands off the secretary. Keeps picking on Willard, whose family started the goddamn company decades ago.

Willard doesn’t know much about fucking. His mom would never let him, even though he’s twenty-seven. Boss wants to buy his mansion. Willard no longer has a father.

Being a capitalist is so horny. Willard trains the rats to kill. Rats in the party of the capitalists. Rats cause chaos and chair smashing. Rats undermine the sanctity of the State. Rats inside your mother’s pussy, squealing. As soon as Willard’s mother dies, he is set free.

Willard in the mansion, crying. Becoming-rat. Now that mother’s finally dead, he can let the rats take control.

The rats are inside Willard’s mind. That is why they gradually come to comprise the whole of this reality. To make a rat bite, you first have to teach it what a body is. Willard lying in dead mother’s bed. Come on, says Willard to his favorite white rat, we have a lot to do.

Willard doesn’t get no cash from his mom’s death. All he gets is the mansion and her clothes. (This sounds promising for any number of reasons.) Old people, reeking of death, descend upon the funeral party…Scene of gluttony makes Willard sick. He goes and tells the rats something. The rats have no monetary system.

Usurpers have no dreams; only greed. Willard teaches rat to defecate in the ashtray. The rats slowly take over the mansion. Willard, charmed, doesn’t want to control anything. He lets the rats crawl all over him when he’s lying in bed at night. He promises them that he’ll take them into the office with him one day.

One girl at the office thinks she understands. She can’t help it, she is a blatant heterosexual. Willard wants to let her in, she is blonde too, but he cannot let the rats out. Willard has his work to do. He hates bourgeois society. Blonde girl tries to ruin him by buying him a cat. She will never become the rat woman of his dreams. Like everyone else, she is out to kill every dream he has ever had.

Willard can’t make the rats stop breeding. They are invading his ego. He’s going to lose the house. Even though he is starting to hate them, he feeds them anyway. The rats are all he has.

Die usurper die. Crucifixes and capital. Everyone wants to take Willard’s house away. Even the man at the morgue won’t pay. The capitalists in the office wave their cash around. Willard dreams of primitive society. Willard’s rats are going to rob them.

The rats suddenly appearing everywhere. Rats trained to gnaw on capitalists’ genitals. Rats as big as a man, says the L.A. Times. The rat isn’t supposed to be in the bedroom. But he always wants to be. Willard gives him a pencil to chew on. Willard will find a solution to other people’s problems. Then the other people will stop bothering him.

More rats than people in this world. Let socius rot. The capitalist kills Willard’s best friend. The rat is mad that his friend died. Willard says there was nothing he could do. The rat knows what his options are.

When he’s not talking to the rats, Willard yells at his dead mother. I’ll give you a reason to die tonight. There’s no money in this house. Socrates is dead, so are mom and dad. All killed by the capitalists. Willard makes the decisions now. There are more rats than choices.

Late at night, when the boss is all alone, Willard brings the rats into the office. They’ll do anything Willard wants – all he has to do is snap his fingers. Blurred vision produces more rats. The floor is covered with them; rats have no values. The rats will teach the capitalist a lesson. Rats in the capitalist’s eyeballs. They tear him up, get inside of him. Crashes through the light, falls out the window. Rats can read also. The rats will always find a solution to the human problem.

(No symbols where none intended.)

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