Classic Screen Scenes: Watership Down – Hazel’s Death
Great films appear every year and with them are potentially classic scenes that may become more famous than the film itself. The shower scene in Psycho, the chariot race in Ben Hur, the chest bursting moment in Alien, and the opera music sounding across the prison yard in The Shawshank Redemption are just some of the examples of the classic celluloid moments that we may be familiar with even if we’ve never seen the film. I’ll be sharing my favourite film scenes, some you will know others may be unfamiliar, but hopefully they’ll be moments you enjoy as much as I do.
Watership Down (1978) – Hazel’s Death
Martin Rosen’s 1978 adaptation of Richard Adams’ classic novel touched the hearts of millions and many that grew up with it still find their eyes welling on repeat viewing, even with the presence of Art Garfunkel’s “Bright Eyes.” Though Rosen’s work is not 100% faithful to Adams’ wonderful book he still managed to produce one of the best animated films of all time. Its dark theme of environmental devastation has never been more relevant than today with the continued felling of rainforests (the aptly named ‘lungs of the earth’) and the ongoing debate between scientists about global warming. The forced migration of rabbits, the dangers they face and their struggles for survival are beautifully portrayed but the best scene in Watership Down comes right at the end.
Despite its powerful underlying themes, Watership Down is a simple but moving tale. When a young rabbit, Fiver, senses impending danger, his brother, Hazel, knowing Fiver’s sixth sense is never wrong, decides to lead a group of willing followers away from their warren in search of sanctuary. After negotiating many dangers in the English countryside, the rabbits reach a safe haven beneath a solitary tree on the tip of a large hill known as Watership Down but having found safety their problems have only just begun. To ensure the survival of their new warren, Hazel leads his friends once again in search of does and they come face to face with the fearsome General Woundwort, ruler of Efrafa, a warren that is tantamount to a fascist state. Of course, our friends prevail in the end and the future looks bright for everyone. However, Watership Down appropriately has one final event to tug at our heartstrings and it is, for me, the saddest scene.
The film ends with Hazel eating alone while a large group of rabbits are gathered close by. Grey hairs on Hazel’s face are an unwanted testament to the many years that have passed. There’s further poignancy to this scene if you have read the book for Hazel is said to have lived longer than most rabbits do, meaning the other characters – Bigwig, Fiver, Blackberry, Holly etc – have all presumably died long before. In the distance Hazel hears his name spoken before appearing, floating through the sky, is the spirit of a black rabbit. At first Hazel doesn’t recognise the spirit but when his visitor’s face briefly changes to the dark silhouette of a rabbit’s head with red eyes Hazel knows that the Black Rabbit of Inle, the Grim Reaper of rabbits if you prefer, has come for him. Previously in the film, the Black Rabbit of Inle was feared by all of Hazel’s friends and his appearance was somewhat terrifying. In this guise he appears gentle and friendly, asking Hazel to join him and become one of his Owsla. Hazel initially hesitates, concerned for the welfare of those he is leaving behind, but when the Black Rabbit assures him all will be well there is nothing to keep Hazel in this world any longer. After lying down for the last time, Hazel’s spirit emerges from his lifeless body and together he and the Black Rabbit of Inle make the journey to the afterlife.