Even Dwarfs Start Small — And So Do Chickens

I watched Werner Herzog's Even Dwarfs Start Small last night. True to the title, the cast is entirely made up of dwarfs. I thought the movie was fascinating on many levels, but one scene in particular really called out to me: one of the several interstitial cuts of chickens running around outside the institution where the film takes place.

One chicken is holding a piece of meat in its beak, it's a mouse or maybe a rat. The chicken is clearly hungry and wants to eat its prize. He is surrounded by a dozen or so other chickens, and while not every other chicken is paying attention, two or three chickens are aggressively chasing after the one holding supper.

He frantically runs back and forth trying to dodge the chicken-vultures, but by playing this game of keep away he also has no chance to actually eat his food. He runs back and forth, never leaving the confines of the tiny area they are in. The chicken could run away to another spot to eat his prize in peace, but he doesn't. He stays with the herd.

If he gave up running and shared the food, he would get to at least get to eat it. He'd probably get the biggest share of it too, simply because he is holding it and would have first dibs. But that would mean he would also have to share, which he clearly didn't want to do.

If he had run away, he would have been able to enjoy all of the spoils for himself. But then he would be alone, away from the herd, which he also clearly didn't want to do.

And so the chicken runs around, back and forth, holding his prize but never getting to actually enjoy it. He is a stupid animal, and yet he is strangely human. He is selfish, in more ways than one: it appears as if he wants the other chickens to recognize him as alpha male, as the one who has the food. But he also doesn't want to share, and to keep the spoils to himself.

You must make a choice.

If you want the admiration of others, you must sacrifice some of your spoils and share it with the herd. If you don't want to share your spoils, then you must sacrifice the admirations of others and abandon the herd.

The scene cuts with the chicken still running, holding his food in his mouth and unable to eat it. Limbo.