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Zoo is probably as tasteful a movie as can be, given its bestial
subject. For those of you who aren't aware, there's a small population
of the world who prefer the love of an animal--both mentally and
physically--over the love of a human. This film stylistically recreates
the life and death of one horse lover, Mr. Hands, and his pack of
animal molesting friends, during one of many meetings and BBQ's in a
small town near Seattle. Mr. Hands died from internal injuries, caused
by the numerous and repetitive thrusting of the enlarged member of a
stallion into his anus.
The film is tasteful because it's not sleazy. In this respect, it's almost worse on the audience because it humanizes these so-called animal lovers. What you'd think would be more like a shockumentary, more than anything else, really becomes a shallow dissection of a zoophile's playful mind. It's certainly not psychological, nor really in-depth; but its shallowness really makes it that much more grim.
As I watched the film, I felt like a voyeur peering into the lives of ordinary human beings doing absolutely bizarre and reprehensible things--and they just talked about it as if it were as benign and workaday as eating a bowl of cereal or taking the dog for a ride (insert pun here). Yet, much like a pedophile talking about his love for children, these zoophile's innocently and sincerely spoke about their love for animals.
Initially concerned about the content of the film, I left the theater without witnessing the exploitation or mockery of bestiality, nor did I see anything graphic or overtly sexual. I did leave the theater a little sickened, however, because I didn't loathe Mr. Hands or his friends. In fact, I somehow sympathized with their pitiful plight.
What job as a film maker is harder than to show the human side of something most would agree is so perverse as to appear unhuman? This film delves into the psyche and social constructs of a group of people and depicts it in such a way that I can honestly say I understand WHY it happened. I don't sympathize personally, but the characters were made human in a way I truly didn't think would be possible to portray. Even if you don't agree (and most won't) with the sentiment of the characters involved, and even if you find the subject matter abhorrent, you honestly could view this film and walk away with something useful from the experience.
Zoo is not a docudrama about caging animals but about having sex with
them. The film, directed by Robinson Devor, comes out of an incident in
2005 in Enumclaw Washington, a rural community 45 miles southeast of
Seattle in which a Boeing engineer died as a result of a perforated
colon after having anal intercourse with an Arabian stallion. Known
only as Mr. Hands in the film, the deceased man was a divorced father
of a young son with a top level job who used his weekends as an escape
from a suffocating life style. Since Washington law at the time allowed
sex with animals, no one was charged with a crime.
While few object to depriving animals of their freedom in zoos or sending them to slaughterhouses to be ground up for hamburgers, the thought of men having sex with animals stirs up reservoirs of righteous indignation and the incident became fodder for the media and Internet message boards which approached it with typical scorn and ridicule. Devor uses a combination of audio interviews with actual participants and reenactments from actor stand-ins to attempt to shed some light on what actually happened. The film delivers neither judgment of the practice nor evaluation of the psychology behind it but simply raises the question whether zoophilia is simply another form of sexual orientation or whether it constitutes abuse of a being incapable of giving consent.
Shot in muted colors, Zoo has a lyrical and poetic style with a moving sound track that gives the film an air of something forbidden but also something eerily beautiful. Bringing a taboo subject out of the darkness and subjecting it to some light, the film allows us to reexamine our preconceived notions about a practice that has in fact been going on since Ancient Greece. Opening with an interview with Coyote, a coal miner from Virginia who came to Washington to meet like minded friends, the film examines the phenomenon of the "zoophile" community, a group of isolated individuals where such appetites are shared. The men gather at all night parties, talk about their love for animals, and engage in an activity they consider natural but which the rest of the world frowns upon. After he was identified as a participant, one man asks how he could be a good man yesterday and a bad man today but the question remains unanswered.
We hear the voices of some of the members of the group but only Jenny Edwards of the organization "Hope for Horses" speaks directly to the camera. While the thrust of her remarks are humane, her participation in a dramatization of the gelding of the horse involved is disturbing and is certainly done without the horses consent. Zoo neither endorses sex with animals nor condemns it but simply empathizes with the humanity of the participants who, for one reason or another, prefer anonymous sex as Richard Gere put it in Pretty Woman, "without all the emotional hassles" of relationships. By doing so, the issue is removed from the level of abstraction and the death is made heartbreakingly real.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you have ever seen the "Mr. Hands" video, you will get more out of this film. "Mr. Hands" was a short video depicting a man having anal sex with a horse. Suddenly, the horse thrusts violently into the man and ruptures his colon. He died several hours later of internal bleeding. The man was part of a Seattle-based group of zoophiles who met occasionally in a non-judgemental environment where they would discuss and indulge in their fetish for animal love. Robinson Devor's examination of this group uses audio recordings, on-camera interviews, and actors to recreate the events that led up to the death of Mr. Hands, a father of one and employee of Boeing, the aircraft manufacturer. What's so amazing about this doc is the cinematography by Sean Kirby and the brilliant score by Paul Mathew Moore. Devor uses these powerful elements to create a deliberately discomforting vibe to accompany his always interesting revelations. Although the director scoots around the precise details of the Mr. Hands incident, he packs his film with fascinating detail and even-handed debate. The film explores what zoophilia (animal love) is and avoids demonizing its subjects. Although I found the recent British TV doco, "Animal Passions" (also reviewed), a more thorough exploration of this incendiary subject with unbelievable on-camera interviews, "Zoo" is effective for the atmosphere and sense of time and place it creates. Highly recommended.
I appreciate that the filmmaker is going for more than shock, but I'm not sure what this film really has to offer. It's clear that the filmmaker has some sympathy for the zoophiles, but as a whole, the film is mess. It's beautifully filmed. Almost every frame is mesmerizing, but it feels distracting rather than enlightening. The impeccably filmed images work to mask a lack of insight. Not a terrible film, but the novelty of the subject matter will bring it more attention than it ultimately deserves. It's also derivative. It borrows heavily from Errol Morris. It's probably better than most stuff out there now. At least I saw it instead of Georgia Rule.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
And how much are you willing to imagine your own death? What is special about this story is that we think we can sympathize with others, and we think that we value life, but it's very easy and tempting to laugh off the death of someone who appears to have some kink that we find repulsive. So, if you die doing something that most of us consider to be awful or merely absurd, does that mean that your death was funny? At what point does such a death regain its dignity? This film is highly poetic and disconcerting. The film itself is so beautiful, so lush and full of life and color, that you can easily get lost in the trees. It won't tell you what you should think or how you should feel. It is not surprising that many people won't like it, or that they will decide its merit without ever even seeing it. You think you can't be shocked anymore, and then you are shocked. Maybe it makes you angry, but doesn't it make you curious, also? This film is for people who want to learn about what connects us and how we come to feel so distant from the rest of the world. It is beautiful to watch, and difficult to forget.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Zoo is a dreamy, slow-moving documentary about those who "love" animals and the fraternity that developed to make it possible for others to do so. It tries just a little too hard to show a sympathetic, understanding and otherwise balanced view of this activity. It's almost as if this were a film assignment given to the filmmakers, i.e. "your task is to take this activity, as well as the death involved, and convince the class to empathize and sympathize with those involved." Just in case you don't get the point of view espoused by the film and the awareness it wants you to attain, it ends with the one person close enough to the animals, a female veterinarian, stating her newfound understanding of these people. The extra prod did not sway me, and as such, Zoo fails at an impossible task.
Please don't let the graphic title of this user-comment mislead you (I just couldn't resist writing this), as "Zoo" is in fact - everything but an exploitative and perverted excuse to finally revolve a movie on the controversial topic of bestiality. As strange as it may sound, this documentary/drama is actually very sober, tasteful and not the least bit disrespectful towards people with peculiar (to put it mildly) sexual likings. Robinson Devor, the young and clearly promising young writer/director of "Zoo", based himself on real events as they occurred in Seattle in 2005. A middle aged and divorced man died there as a result of internal bleedings after and here comes the kicker experiencing sexual intercourse with a horse. The media promptly jumped onto this story and in practically no time the authorities unraveled a small but nevertheless fanatic network of people who regularly gathered for a weekend of beer, pizza and animal sex. The "shocking" news spawned a giant debate and even some riots because apparently there weren't any laws against bestiality in the state of Washington at the time and all sorts of animal rights organizations launched hate-campaigns. Rather than to bluntly categorize the Zoos (short term for Zoophiles) as sick & twisted individuals as well, Devor's film digs a lot deeper into their pasts and personalities. The documentary primarily depicts these Zoos as confused and introverted people with a devoted affection for animals. Of course this doesn't justify their sexual preferences, but at least you don't simply label them as a bunch of perverted freaks. In the hands of any other random exploitation-filmmaker, "Zoo" probably would have existed of nothing more than images of slavering rednecks cheering and queuing to bend over in front of a horse. There isn't a single explicit shot to be found in "Zoo" and the story hardly even hints at sleaze or schlock. If anything, you almost feel like Robinson Devor is to blame for patronizing & protecting these Zoophiles too much, but then still you don't as they already suffered more than enough scandal in various other media. The narrative and filming style of "Zoo" is also quite original and refreshing. The on screen characters are, with the exception of some supportive ones, hired actors but the guiding voice-overs come from actual interviews with the real Zoos. The bitterness and noticeable martyr-tone in their voices gives a whole unique dimension of realism to the film. The photography is truly enchanting and the sober music, oh my God the music, literally sent cold shivers down my spine. Regardless of the questionable subject matter, "Zoo" is a dreamy & highly elegant film that comes with my highest possible recommendation.
Aside from the cinematography, which is outstanding, this documentary is not worth watching. The subject obsession is incomprehensible, if not reprehensible. While I can certainly feel compassion for the man's family, I can only shake my head at what he subjected himself to, time and time again. What can a man be thinking to allow a half ton animal to mount him and shove its two foot long penis into him?? For those of you who are tempted to download and watch the actual footage of the featured encounter (which is flashed briefly a few times in the film itself) my advice to you is don't. I have to admit that I allowed my curiosity to get away with me. Now I wish I could unwatch it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Where other films on this subject matter would be made to shock or
weigh heavily on the inappropriateness of it, Zoo is quite the
opposite. It is a somewhat poetic documentary following the tragic
death of Mr. Hands, a man who died after having his colon perforated by
a stallion. Instead of focusing on the pure shock values and
controversy that bestiality brings, it instead focuses on the condition
of zoophiles. It is an intimate study into human nature and what makes
us who we are.
Zoo was in no way meant to shock or entice the audience's curiosity with graphic images. In fact, if you were to watch the film without the dialog, you could be fooled into believing that this was a beautifully photographed and musically scored feature film. Perhaps it is the imagery that softens the story of the zoophiles.
There is a definite play on light in this documentary. Light is used to great effect in what we see in lightness or darkness. The use of light in cinematography, however, is in direct contrast to the story being told. Where one would think that the topic of bestiality is one of black and white, Zoo blurs the line. Is it really so hard to accept love for what it is and accept that humans could love animals as they love humans? Perhaps this is the most shocking part of Zoo. Rob Devor has made a film that makes the audience sympathize with the zoophiles. For a topic that should shock us on a graphic level, it turns the tables and shocks us in an altogether different way.
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