The Unbearable Pathos Of The Shitty Little Squirrel Rat From ‘Ice Age’

Moreso than almost anything else, our lives are underpinned by a desperate need to have our internal lives validated. We want to make our thoughts, our hopes, and our feelings external — to show those around us that there is a rich inner life swirling and scintillating inside our brain, like a shiny toy inside a Kinder Surprise. Consciously or not, we want to prove to the world that we are not just an extra in the background of the lives of other people, not just a mindless cog ticking along mechanistically until we disappear from view, but a complex, beautiful thing that has spent its entire life growing, struggling, learning, changing, and, above all, living.

This is what art is for. Art not only gives us a chance to express our internal lives to others, but it lets us see aspects of that internal life articulated by others who feel the same. We want to see ourselves reflected in art, to feel that we are seen and understood, even if the art isn’t addressed to us personally.

When Henry David Thoreau said that the majority of us are leading quiet lives of desperation, it resonated because we are, and to see that acknowledged felt like the lifting of a weight.

I feel the lifting of this same weight when I watch the antics of the fucked little prehistoric mammal known only as Scrat.

Although nominally a peripheral character, Scrat (20,000 B.C. – ???) is the beating heart of the Ice Age franchise, his trademark slapstick antics opening each film and featuring prominently in promotional material. While he went on to feature in the other four Ice Age films (in addition to starring in several of his very own short films), the entirety of his nature is made clear to us in the first 30 seconds that he appeared onscreen. His existence, communicated to the audience with stunning clarity, can be summed up in two axioms:

  • Scrat craves the possession and storage of acorns beyond all things.
  • The universe will not allow Scrat to possess and store acorns.

Whether through the statistical indifference of good old-fashioned bad luck or some malicious divine intervention, Scrat’s every attempt at finding and storing acorns is thwarted, in manners that are both physically and psychologically brutal. It is not simply that he is incapable of finding and storing acorns — he does so with an incredible frequency — but that they are violently, catastrophically taken away from him the very second that he feels a sense of security.

Having experienced a moment’s respite in burying his one treasured acorn, the ground fissures beneath him, triggering the calving off of a great glacier that threatens to engulf and destroy him. He is chased by a storm of razor-sharp icicles, squeezed between two enormous ice cliffs, and shot out into the sky at a height that would surely kill him. And yet, even as he soars further and further upwards into the merciless custody of gravity, he seeks solace in the possession of his acorn.

Scrat is a creature of infinite perseverance, driven by an automaton-like compulsion to complete his singular task without regard for the overwhelming evidence that suggests he should stop. Subjected to every hardship and torture that a creative sadist could imagine, he relentlessly, doggedly pursues the business of finding and storing acorns.

At every turn, he is crushed, beaten, frozen, burned, stomped on, stretched, drowned, fired into space, and insulted. In Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, he is denied even the sweet release of death, dragged backwards out of the infinite promise of Acorn Heaven by the rudimentary CPR of a charitable but misguided sloth. And yet he continues the pursuit of finding and storing acorns. Like a besnouted golem, the instructions to find and store acorns are seemingly inscribed within his head, a singular directive he is fundamentally incapable of ignoring, even if it goes against what he truly wants.

In Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs he is given a chance at romance — at actual interpersonal connection in an otherwise solitary, frustrated existence — that could be kindled if only he would gift a single acorn to Scratte and, yet, his hands cannot release it. Even as his eyes plead with his hands to do so, he cannot. He is a reluctant, powerless observer as he destroys his own life, knowing full well what he is doing, but doing it nonetheless.

In Gone Nutty, we see that he has against all odds found and stored a safe, secure, and abundant collection of acorns — more acorns than he could ever need in a lifetime. Where he a rational actor, he would simply cherish what he already had, free to explore the rest of what life has to offer him. And yet.

In the act of attempting to store one more acorn than he has room for, the heaven that he has created for himself is destroyed. His wealth of acorns is scattered to the winds, and the final acorn that he clutches with enthusiastic relief literally crumbles to ash in his paws. Time and time again, he is proven to be his own worst enemy, and yet he is incapable of living any other way.

In this way, Scrat is all of us. A minuscule, frustrated creature who can express himself only in screams, tossed into a world that is uncaring to the point of being actively cruel. He is locked in an endless battle with both the natural universe and his own nature. The creature Scrat, a goofy cross between a squirrel and a rat, is forever in a treadmill of Job-like trials that grind him into the dirt every goddamn day of his life.

Unable to make sense of why the universe is trying to destroy him and why he is doing so much to help it, all he can do is accept that this is his lot, try his best anew each day, and cherish the acorn for the brief, shining moment that it is in his grasp.