Category: Film

Human/Animal = A False Divide

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 by

The Wolfman (2010)

While The Wolfman (2010) is hardly what I’d call an animal-friendly film – or even a good film – I found this exchange between two “gypsy” women (Irish Travellers?), tending to an injured man in the wake of a werewolf attack, rather insightful (if unintentionally so):

Daughter: Once he is bitten by the beast, there is no cure. You should let him die.

Maleva: That would make me a sinner.

Daughter: There is no sin in killing a beast.

Maleva: Is there not?

What of killing a man? Where does one begin and the other end?

Elsewhere in the movie, villagers are shown tying up a moose and using him as “bait” with which to catch the werewolf who had been terrorizing their village (happily, the moose escapes unscathed). Additionally, the traveling gypsy clan owns a “dancing” bear who is initially blamed for the “animal attacks.” While the bear appears to be computer generated, his captivity still makes for depressing viewing. Last but not least, the bulk of the story’s plot involves the hunting of a werewolf, which could quite possibly be construed as a matter of self-defense, as said wolfman primarily preys on his human kin.

Possibly there’s a more nuanced discussion to be had on the animal ethics of The Wolfman; if so, I’m not feeling it. In one word: yawn.

George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead answers with an emphatic “Hells, no!”

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010 by

George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (2009)

Spoiler warning!

Earlier this year, I wrote a brief piece about George A. Romero’s 2007 zombie horror flick Diary of the Dead. While the film did not explicitly address our treatment of nonhuman animals, the ending depicted two hunters tormenting a female zombie for “sport,” her “death” (if, indeed, one can kill the undead) becoming for them a form of entertainment, as opposed to a matter of survival. The narrator’s final words posed a question that I oftentimes ask myself, particularly during monster movies in which the future of humanity’s existence is called into question:

Are we worth saving?

You tell me.

Survival of the Dead is Romero’s 2009 follow-up to Diary of the Dead. While similar in style and tone, I found its ending and implications to be far more disturbing than those of its predecessor.

Without going too much into plot detail – it’s mostly incidental – Survival of the Dead follows a band of ex-military mercenaries (seen briefly in Diary of the Dead) as they escape a U.S. mainland riddled with zombies for a seeming island oasis. Located off the coast of Delaware, Plum Island is controlled by two feuding Irish families: the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. While the O’Flynn clan and its allies work to save the island and its remaining human residents from an infestation of the undead by finding and slaying all of those infected, the Muldoon camp believes that it’s their familial duty to keep their zombie kin alive – but chained up and under control – until a cure can be found. Naturally, these two philosophies cause a further rift between the competing families; ultimately, the Muldoons prevail, and Patrick O’Flynn – family patriarch and head of the zombie-hunting posse – is banished from the island.

After some time, O’Flynn returns in the company of the mercenaries, only to find the zombies “chained up […] in imitation of their previous lives – a mailman puts mail in a mailbox, a logger wields an axe on some wood, and so on,” as Wiki so aptly describes it. The remaining inhabitants have started to lose hope that a cure is forthcoming; instead, they’ve shifted goals, aiming to train the zombies to at least “act” human – and, more importantly, to crave and consume the flesh of nonhuman animals over that of their human kin.

Ultimately, a show-down between the two clans hinges upon Seamus Muldoon’s success in this endeavor. One of Patrick Muldoon’s daughters, the zombie Jane, is placed in a small corral with a horse, in whom she shows little interest. Instead, she bites the hand of her twin sister Janet, thus infecting her as well. A gunfight breaks out between the two warring factions, and in the chaos, a group of gathered zombies is set loose on the participants, most of whom are devoured by their undead relatives.

After the battle ends and the group disperses, Jane does attack the horse, biting a chunk of flesh from his body. Alas, the only witnesses to this “victory” are Janet and her father. As Janet rushes off to inform the departing group, Patrick shoots his infected daughter in the head; the secret now belongs to the ever-proud Patrick, and Patrick alone.

The Muldoons, it turns out, were right: zombies can be retrained to eat nonhuman animals. In the context of the film, this shift in consumptive preferences is presented as a “good” thing – progress, success, a triumph. But is it?

As a vegan, my answer is obvious. But one need not be an animal advocate to see the horrific moral calculations embodied in this message. As popularly imagined – and certainly, as presented in Romero’s films – zombies are…undead. Unfeeling. Immune to pain, of either the physical or psychological sort. Lacking in emotions. Incapable of anything but the most rudimentary, instinctive thought. Unable to bond with or even recognize friends and family members. But most of all, they are dead! They had and lived their one life and, while it may have ended prematurely, it is over.

And yet, we’re supposed to see the sacrifice of countless other lives in sustenance of the undead as a “win”? As compared to zombies, nonhuman animals are sentient; they are capable of feeling pain, and suffer immensely while consumed alive, piece by agonizing piece, whether by zombies or humans. They can think, fall in love, experience joy and sadness, and feel fear and longing. They have friends and families, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers. Their will to live is no less than our own.

Going far beyond the fucked up, speciesist morals and practices of existing human societies, Survival of the Dead imagines a world in which nonhumans animals aren’t just “less than” humans – but are also “less than” dead humans. Has-been humans. Once-were humans. Are no more-humans. At best, terminally ill and in need of swift, humane euthanasia. At worst, just this side of a rock.

Nonhuman animals < zombies = a world I don't want to live in. Is there a reason our undead families should snack on the flesh of nonhuman animals over that of humans? (After all, it is we who cannot accept their deaths.) Would we willingly offer our own bodies up to aid zombie dogs or undead polar bears in their own survival? (I think not.) And what happens, exactly, when the undead eat through all the nonhuman animal life forms on the planet? Humans are already devouring the planet’s resources at an alarming rate; earth simply would not survive an undead army of consumers for long. Ultimately, the Survival of the Dead would mean the demise of all – humans and nonhumans alike.

So.

Are we worth saving?

You tell me.

George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead asks, “Are we worth saving?”

Sunday, June 20th, 2010 by

Diary of the Dead (2007) - Movie Poster

George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007) is your standard, post-apocalyptic zombie fare. As the dead begin to reanimate, a group of film students and their professor flees down the East Coast in a rickety RV. The story is told from the vantage point of the students, in particular Jason, the aspiring documentarian of the group.

Nonhuman animals don’t make an appearance in Diary of the Dead – really, there’s not one guard dog or zombie cat to be found – and yet, the movie’s ending speaks to what I’ve been feeling with increasing urgency as of late. (Cue images of the “oil” spill in the Gulf Coast, complete with hand-wringing about oil-soaked pelicans, torched turtles belonging to endangered species – and the “livelihoods” of the “fishermen” who themselves eke out a living by slaughtering nonhuman animals by the millions. “RIP Gumbo,” indeed.)

The final scene, narrated by Jason’s girlfriend, Debra (who took up his cause after he was mauled to death by a zombie; no spoiler alert needed, as she refers to him in the past tense throughout the film’s voiceover), turns the camera’s lens inward, into the heart of humanity.

Click here to watch the movie’s ending (skip ahead to 6:50; sorry, embedding disabled!), or keep reading for a transcript.

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UPC: Fowl Play Screening & Presentation by Karen Davis in NYC 5/15

Sunday, March 28th, 2010 by

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: United Poultry Concerns
Date: Fri, Mar 26, 2010 at 1:42 PM
Subject: [UPC] Fowl Play Screening and UPC Presentation in New York City May 15

Fowl Play Screening and UPC Presentation in New York City May 15
Join United Poultry Concerns & Mercy For Animals at the Columbus Library!

Promotional artwork for the movie FOWL PLAY.

United Poultry Concerns and Mercy For Animals invite you to attend a screening of MFA’s award winning film Fowl Play and a presentation by UPC president Karen Davis in honor of International Respect for Chickens Month/May.

Hosted by the Columbus Library on Saturday, May 15 from 11:30am to 2:00pm – the day preceding the Third Annual Veggie Pride Parade in NYC – this event will be followed by leafleting for chickens!

Fowl Play Screening and Chicken Presentation will be held at:

Columbus Library
742 10th Ave (between 50th & 51st Streets)
New York, NY 10019-7019
(212) 586-5098

Saturday, May 15, 2010

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Penelope: A Nose by Any Other Name

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 by

I’m tickled pink (pun so intended!) to present POP!’s very first guest post, a vegan-feminist look at the 2006 romantic comedy Penelope from Shannon Davis, aka Vegan Burnout. Based on a Marilyn Kaye novel of the same name, the film stars a (be-snouted) Christina Ricci as the titular Penelope, a young woman seemingly born into wealth and privilege – save for her “unfortunate” porcine nose. Would it trouble the reader to know that, as a child, I longed for a cat tail, à la Catra? Beauty conventions and species boundaries, who needs ’em!? – Kelly G.
 

Cover artwork for the novel PENELOPE

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

Sexism and speciesism go together like, well, movies and popcorn. Carol J. Adams wrote the book on this nasty little tag-team, and I for one am a smarter consumer of pop culture for it. I also love movies and popcorn, so imagine my surprise when, one snowy afternoon, I watched Penelope and found my vegan-feminist Spidey Sense a-tingle.

Penelope stars Christina Ricci as an otherwise gorgeous girl born with a pig’s nose as the result of an old family curse. (Women! pigs! obvious! parallel!) The curse, of course, can only be broken by the love of “one of her own kind”—unanimously interpreted to mean that of another aristocrat. Already, we have all the elements of a fairy tale—the perfect lens for examining cultural notions of beauty and self-love.

Penelope’s parents are a study in contrasts: her father, Franklin (Richard E. Grant), guiltily accepts responsibility for Penelope’s “disfigurement,” as his side of the family bears the curse; her mother, Jessica (Catherine O’Hara), is so terrified of what people will say that she fakes baby Penelope’s death to deter snooping reporters. She is so obsessed by her daughter’s nose that she bans anything pig-related, scolding Jake the butler when he plays “This Little Piggy” with the baby’s toes and forbidding her husband to eat bacon. Any notion of her daughter as animal is anathema to her—we’re meant to understand that she means well, but her fixation reveals far more about her than it does about Penelope.

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When Violence Goes Viral (On The Crazies)

Monday, March 1st, 2010 by

Movie poster for THE CRAZIES - Help Us!

Caution: Spoilers Galore!

As far as horror movies go, The Crazies is fairly standard stuff. A plane crash-lands in a remote marsh just a tick upstream of the rural farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. On board is a biological weapon, engineered by the U.S. government in order to “destabilize populations”; allegedly, it was en route to “an incinerator in Dallas,” having proven too dangerous for wide scale use. The plane’s payload slowly leaks into its watery tomb, where the contaminant is carried downstream, straight into Ogden Marsh’s water supply – and onto its citizens’ crops and into their bellies. In short order, the virus infects the town’s residents, transforming them from loving husbands and mild-mannered educators into violent, homicidal “crazies.” *

The federal government quickly moves in, quarantining the town and separating the townspeople into two groups – “infected” and “not” – ripping families apart in the process. Those who are thought to be sick are taken to the local high school (now set up as a makeshift hospital), strapped to hospital gurneys, and “treated.” (“Observed” is more like it. The viewer doesn’t get the feeling that there’s anything the doctors can do to help their patients.) The healthy residents are transported to a large gas station/truck stop/convenience store situated on the edge of town, ostensibly for eventual evacuation to nearby Sioux City. Of course, because this is a horror film and all, things do not go as planned; a riot breaks out at the high school, leading to the government’s evacuation (and eventual nuclear incineration, complete with cover-up) of Ogden Marsh. The events unfold within a 96-hour period (two days pre- and two days post-outbreak), during which the audience follows four heroes – the local sheriff and deputy; the sheriff’s wife, who’s also the town’s only doctor; and her teenage assistant – as they try to understand what’s happening to their fellow citizens and, later, escape to safety.

What’s particularly interesting about The Crazies from a vegan perspective is the way in which the town’s residents are portrayed, pre- and post-infection. Precipitating the sheriff’s hunt for and discovery of the downed plane is the discovery of its pilot – or rather, its pilot’s body – in the marsh by a group of (duck?) hunters, whom the sheriff scolds for illegal, off-season hunting.

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Biopic Temple Grandin to air February 6 on HBO; vegans sharpen their knives in anticipation.*

Friday, February 5th, 2010 by

Temple Grandin

For once, I’m actually happy that I don’t get HBO – otherwise, I’d feel obligated to watch and report on Temple Grandin, a new biopic starring Claire Danes that’s premiering on the cable channel this weekend. (Spared by own cheapness!) As if the title alone isn’t enough to turn all the vegans and vegetarians in the audience off (what’s that? you’ve never heard of Temple Grandin, you say?), behold American Humane’s gag-worthy marketing materials:

Movie Tells Inspirational Life Story of American Humane Advisor
‘Temple Grandin’ Airs Feb. 6 on HBO

HBO will premiere an original film based on the inspirational, true story of Temple Grandin, starring Claire Danes, on Feb. 6, 2010. (Check your local listing for the broadcast time in your area.)

Temple Grandin paints a picture of a young woman’s perseverance and determination while struggling with the isolating challenges of autism. Grandin became a successful doctor in animal science through her unique connection to animals and is now a world-renowned consultant in the field. She is widely recognized within the animal welfare and livestock-handling industries as a pioneer in the ethical treatment of animals.

If by “ethical” you mean “killing more efficiently.” Similarly, Grandin’s “unique connection” to “food” animals is akin to that of a serial killer to her victims. Tomato, tomahto.

Grandin is also a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the American Humane® Certified farm animal program. American Humane Certified, originated by the American Humane Association, is the nation’s pre-eminent and fastest-growing monitoring, auditing and labeling program that attests to the humane care and handling of animals raised for food. Find out more about the American Humane Certified program at www.thehumanetouch.org.

Or just bypass the “happy meat” propaganda and go straight to http://humanemyth.org.

Grandin is also the best-selling author of Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation and Humane Livestock Handling. She recently authored an article titled “The Importance of Farm Animal Welfare” for The National Humane Review.

Vegans the internets over remain unimpressed.

In producing the film, HBO also engaged the services of American Humane’s Film & Television Unit, which is the exclusive monitoring and granting agency to award the coveted “No Animals Were Harmed”® end-credit disclaimer. The production followed American Humane’s strict Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media, had an American Humane Certified Animal Safety Representative™ on set to ensure animal safety and welfare, and earned the famous assurance to viewers that “no animals were harmed” in the making of the movie. Learn more about American Humane’s Film & Television Unit.

Wherein “accidental” deaths don’t qualify as “harmful,” and the AHA has about as much authority (or will) to enforce its guidelines on film sets as the USDA does to uphold its own animal “welfare” and worker safety regulations in slaughterhouses.

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Sweeney Todd, a Caged Bird and the Devil’s Wife

Thursday, January 28th, 2010 by

Sweeney Todd movie poster 07

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Caution: spoilers ahead!

Normally, I’m not one for musicals (Little Shop of Horrors and Grease notwithstanding!). That said, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street struck my fancy right away. Now, I could attribute this to the film’s macabre, Gothic Victorian setting, or to the dynamic star/director duo of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton; and, while these are both ginormous positives, I’d be lying if I said that either of these is what compelled me to dabble in a genre I tend to pass up. Nope, as much as I love a Goth Depp/Burton vehicle, Sweeney Todd reeled this vegan misanthrope in with promises of cannibalism. Cannibalism is the shit.

Sweeney Todd opens with the titular character’s arrival in London. “Return to London,” actually: in a former life, Sweeney Todd was one Benjamin Barker (also a barber). But we’ll get to Barker’s story in a moment.

We first meet Sweeney Todd as he and a young sailor dock in a London port. Whereas Todd’s traveling companion, Anthony, marvels at the beauty of London, Sweeney will have none of it. His gloomy, sullen mood sets the tone for the rest of the film: shades of black, gray and blue, colored only by the red crimson of blood spilt.

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The Men Who Stare At Hug Goats

Monday, January 4th, 2010 by

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Crossposted from V for Vegan.

Caution: Major spoilers ahead.

While The Men Who Stare at Goats is by no means an animal rights or overtly anti-vivisection movie, it does (happily!) have a few animal-friendly moments.

Based on a 2004 book of the same name by journalist Jon Ronson, the film is a dramatized account of Ronson’s investigation into “psychic” warfare experiments conducted by the U.S. military in the ’70s and ’80s. Ostensibly a story for the skeptic set (indeed, that’s why the husband and I saw it in the theater), the film also at turns sentimentalizes the “free love,” hippie sensibilities and mysticism of the ’60s and ’70s. (Indeed, it concludes on a disappointingly “anything is possible if you believe” note.)

Anyhow, along with all the “flower power” comes not a little tree- and animal-hugging. Goat-hugging, to be more specific: because the army’s more “practical” experiments involve trauma training carried out on live animals, the medical school’s in-house goats also play a role in the aforementioned psychic experimentation – the purposes of which isn’t nearly as sadistic as the trailers let on.

Lest I get ahead of myself, here’s a brief synopsis, via Wiki:

The film follows Ann Arbor Daily Telegram reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor), who one day interviews Gus Lacey, a man who claims to have psychic abilities. Bob shrugs Lacey off as crazy. Soon after, Bob’s wife leaves him for his one-armed editor. Bob, out of anger, flies to Kuwait to investigate the Iraq War. However, he stumbles onto the story of a lifetime when he meets Special Forces operator, Lyn Cassady (George Clooney). Lyn reveals that he was part of an American army unit training psychic spies (or “Jedi Warriors”), trained to develop a range of parapsychological skills including invisibility, remote viewing, cloud bursting, walking through walls, and intuition.

The founder of this unit, Bill Django (Jeff Bridges), traveled across America in the 1970s for six years exploring a range of New Age movements (including the Human potential movement), because of a vision he received after getting shot during the Vietnam War, and used these experiences to found the New Earth Army. In the 1980s, two of Django’s best recruits were Lyn Cassady and Larry Hooper (Kevin Spacey), who developed a lifelong rivalry because of their opposing views of how to implement the New Earth Army philosophy; Lyn wanted to emphasize the positive side of the teachings, whereas Larry was more interested in the dark side of the philosophy.

In the early 2000s Bob and Lyn embark on a new mission in Iraq, where they are kidnapped by a criminal gang. They escape with fellow kidnapping victim Mahmud Daash (Waleed Zuaiter) and get rescued by a private security firm led by Todd Nixon (Robert Patrick), but get caught up in a firefight between Todd’s security firm and a rival security firm; this would later be known as the “Battle of Ramadi.” Mahmud, Bob and Lyn escape from the firefight and go to Mahmud’s house, which has been shot up by soldiers. From there Bob and Lyn leave to continue on Lyn’s vague mission involving a vision he had of Bill Django.

Here it’s worth noting that Cassady recounts the story of Django and the New Earth Army as his Iraqi adventure with Wilton unfolds in parallel. Both tales begin on a light, humorous note, eventually taking turns for the worse. While the trailers and media interviews done in promotion of the movie tend to emphasize the New Earth Army’s more nefarious projects, Django began the program with the best of intentions: namely, achieving world peace through love and understanding. A laudable goal, to be sure – even if its implementation proved somewhat ridiculous.

However, Hooper eventually betrays Django, assuming control of the New Earth Army in order to corrupt it. (Think of Django as Obi-Wan Kenobi to Cassady’s Luke Sywalker and Hooper’s Darth Vader.) The peace, love and understanding of Django’s ’60s and ’70s give way to the greed, militarization and subjugation of – what? The Reagen ’80s? The Clinton ’90s? The Bush ’00s? All of the above? Take your pick! (The Men Who Stare at Goats is, if not anti-war, at least anti-torture.)

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So, Shane and I saw Transformers today…

Sunday, August 5th, 2007 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.

…and the early battle scenes in Qatar? In poor taste, to say the least. Watching American soldiers and Middle Easterners being blown to smithereens isn’t so much entertaining as it is depressing.

Also depressing was this statement, part of Optimus Prime’s endless moralizing: “All sentient beings deserve freedom”. (Or perhaps it was more along the lines of “All sentient being deserve the right to live”…I forget now.) Really? All sentient beings? Because, like, “sentient” isn’t codeword for “human+”.

Sentience refers to utilization of sensory organs, the ability to feel or perceive subjectively, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness. The possession of sapience is not a necessity. The word sentient is often confused with the word sapient, which can connote knowledge, consciousness, or apperception.

Sadly, and despite the obvious implications of such an animal-friendly statement, Transformers was hardly a pro-AR movie. On the contrary; one of Optimus Prime’s cronies (you know, the “good” “guys”) wanted to kill a dog (which he* saw as evidence of a “rodent infestation”) for pissing on his foot. Uh, yeah, maybe y’all should modify that statement to “All sapient beings…” I hate to break it to the screenwriters, but dogs are sentient, you dumbasses.

The effects were pretty cool, though.

* Though Shane doth protest, the Transformers are all clearly uber-masculine entities. Androgynous they aint.