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03/31/2010

Movie Review: The Animals Film-–the vegan documentary I’ve been looking for!   »

I realized 30 seconds into The Animals Film that this was the “vegan documentary” I’d sought ever since we came up with the idea of “vegan movie reviews” a few months back. Investigative documentaries like Food, Inc. were informative but left me cold. Likewise, I thought Meat was a masterpiece, but it deals solely with the issue of meat production. None of them took a global view of the relationship between humans and other species. Turns out the movie I kept waiting for someone to make came out nearly 30 years ago. 

From what I can tell, The Animals Film caused quite a stir in its native England upon release, mostly due to a unique opportunity to be aired on the then-fledgling Channel 4. The movie apparently also had a large impact in the Swedish Parliament, which revised a lot of its policies regarding animals following a screening of the film. The controversy is hardly surprising: the film opens with historical footage of animals being abused, molested, exploited for entertainment, brutalized, pulverized, electrocuted,* and generally destroyed by humans. As if that wasn’t enough, The Animals Film sets this sequence to the Talking Heads’ “Mind,” with its increasingly desperate plea for “something to change your mind,” extremely effectively. I thought this sequence was so moving—similar to what I imagine Errol Morris would do with the topic—that I watched it multiple times. The Animals Film continues on to critically examine the exploitation of animals by humans, be it in the form of meat production, hunting, entertainment, laboratory testing, or (the one that made me shudder the most) military testing.  

The Animals Film makes a very important point that I actually feel is often lost among the animal rights/vegan discourse. I’ve had a lot of people ask me why I’m vegan, given that I’m not really an “animal person.” I’d point to the inevitable health and environmental reasons, but there was always another reason that I couldn’t fully express. Movies like The Animals Film and Au hasard Balthazar helped me explain—it’s the human reason. When humans inflict suffering on other sentient species, what does that say about us? The film’s tagline, “It’s not about them, it’s about us,” says it all. The U.S. government tied up animals on boats during the Operation Crossroads nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll, just to “test” the effects of atomic bombs on biological creatures? After the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Really? Let me go ahead and give you the results of that test: NOT GOOD. How do we expect to eradicate human suffering when our way of life is so needlessly bound up in inflicting suffering? To those of you thinking, “but we have developed so many medicines because of animal testing,” The Animals Film makes an excellent point—penicillin kills guinea pigs! Fortunately Fleming and Florey never tested it on guinea pigs, or we may have never tried it on humans! Also, side note—why test LSD on monkeys? 

This is how I logically found my way to veganism without being an animal-lover. I grew tired of lying to myself about what needlessly killing animals for food told me about me. Not to sound totally pretentious and condescending (or, for that matter, like a damn hippie), but in my mind, learning to honestly treat other species with respect is the next logical step toward ensuring equality among humans. 

Seriously, I consider The Animals Film mandatory viewing for not only vegans, animal-lovers and the like, but for everyone. If I ever have the opportunity to teach that hypothetical “Animals in Film” syllabus knocking around in my head, The Animals Film would be the first movie I’d show. Actually, maybe it would be the last. I’m not sure what else I’d need to screen after this one.  

*Seriously, Edison? You filmed yourself electrocuting an elephant? Electricity has to annoy me now?

When he’s not slowly burning out his projector bulb, Zach Cincotta is an entertainment and business attorney representing awesome bands, record labels, and other small businesses. His previous movie reviews for Vegansaurus can be found here, you can contact him here, and follow him on Twitter here.

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