Monday, December 1, 2008

Earthlings: A Movie Review

The kind folks at Evolutus PR sent me a DVD copy of Earthlings to review. After watching it, I am not sure whether to throw up, cry, or a mixture of the two. Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, and written and directed by Shaun Monson, this documentary packs a visual punch that is bound to impact anyone who sees it. Maybe I am just a major weenie (I've been told that a few times), but I actually had to watch the film over the span of a few days because I could only handle so much at one time. Most of the footage is undercover camera shots from slaughterhouses, factory farms, animals testing sites, puppy mills, circuses, and zoos. The film questions the assumption that humans are superior to animals, and compares our species-ism to the other "isms" that have blighted humankind's past: racism, sexism, etc. It then shows, in graphic detail, the gruesome results of our desire to make animals service our perceived needs (food, clothing, entertainment, and research).

And now for the film critic part: while the film has an incredible visual impact, I felt that it lacked a variety of voices that makes documentary film-making interesting. Shaun Monson's commentary is at times monotonous, and other times hyperbolic. No one was interviewed for the film, so Monson via Pheonix is the only voice we hear. I personally found it a bit tiring, even though I agree with what the movie is trying to say.

That being said, Earthlings makes a valuable contribution by exposing what goes on behind the purposefully closed doors of the animal-harvesting industry. It reinforced my commitment to veganism, and I can see why they call the film "the vegan maker."

For friends and family who read this blog and would like to see the film, drop me a line. I would be more than happy to lend it out.


Bianca said...

Thanks for the review. This would be a good film for our Memphis animal rights group to watch together. I, too, have a hard time watching the slaughterhouse videos. Sometimes, though, I make myself watch them to remind me why I need to keep up with the vegan outreach.

allularpunk said...

i want to see this movie pretty bad...but i'm afraid of watching it. just THINKING about it makes me almost cry. maybe it's best if i don't? but then i feel bad for NOT watching it, too. maybe i will someday if i'm having an especially emotionally numb day or something.

Chaos Mom said...

oh God. there's no way i could watch that. i would be so traumatized. i have been told that i'm "turning a blind eye" because i won't read those sorts of articles, or watch those sorts of documentaries. i'm not. i really do care, but it is so disturbing i can't sleep for days after seeing them. it makes my heart sick. i can watch horror movies, and murder documentaries and forensic shows on tv without a problem. but the blatent disregard and cruelty humanity shows animals is just too much for me. you're braver than I.

Brittney said...

Wow. Just the idea of watching the animal cruelty makes my stomach sick :( I agree that it is something that needs to have it's doors opened. Meat isn't grown on trees in nice little plastic packages!

Lisa -- Cravin' Veggies said...

I am a bigger weinie. I tried watching this a few months ago on Google Video and just couldn't do it. Good for you for making it through the entire thing.

Lisa -- Cravin' Veggies said...

Sorry... meant to include this in my previous post:

mado said...

I too could not watch this movie in one sitting - I cried for most of it and I've never seen the ending.

I understand that there is a need to show the cruelty that is inflicted on other species however I find that with Animal Rights groups and numerous documentaries constantly showing these images it seems that the most they are doing is assaulting vegans/vegetarians' minds and desensitizing the general populace.

Mark said...

It's also available in a few places online (usually in segments)... I think the following is the full movie:

FYI, Mark

Maida said...

I think I've seen parts of this film online. I say "parts" because I couldn't make it through the whole thing because it was so disturbing. It's sickening when you see with your own eyes exactly what humans do to animals. So sad.

Love your blog, by the way!

Jamie said...

Thanks for your review! This film is the reason i decided to go veg over a year ago, and i haven't looked back!

Barbara said...

That is the film that turned me from meat eating to not touching any of it one year and 2 months ago.. Its very powerful.

oh, well, i mean--- said...

I can see how Phoenix's voice can be tiring, monotonous even. I think, though, in only featuring one narrator, especially one who's voice is so calm, the film aims for a stark contrast between the violence it shows, as well as a kind of hypnotic effect.

I do think he was kind of cheesy at 2 or 3 points, and that is my only small complaint for this amazing film. The film was shown at my university, and I attended-- and walked out a vegan. If the movie hadn't been playing on a screen in front of me, I can't imagine staying to watch the whole thing.

But I'm so glad I did. It really did change my life.

Vegspinz said...

I've been a vegan for about 5 years now, and am afraid to watch that movie, because I don't want to see the graphic cruelty that I know exists (I'm a major weenie too). It didn't take much for me to get the concept of how cruelty = meat, but it didn't happen until I decided to seek the truth. I think a lot of people are so resistant to giving up meat because eating meat represents tradition and comfort for them. It's great to have more and more meatless recipes available to teach people that they don't have to give up tradition and comfort to be cruelty-free! Not to mention that it's so much better for your health and the environment!

Anonymous said...

I'm supposed to be vegan, since I have kidney disease. (According to my doctor, the simplest way to keep my ailing organs healthy is to avoid animal food -- too much protein and phosphorus.) I do eat dairy products, though, since my allergies collide with my vegetarianism.

I once belonged to an online veg*n community, and I learned a LOT from them. I drifted away after a while, though. I think it was the frequently extremist positions I met there which did the most to drive me away.

Yes, we do awful things to animals in the name of cheap food. We also do awful things to other people in the name of ideals, or cheap labour, or cheap resources. The problem will not be solved by forcing people to stop farming animals -- though some good can be done there, I'm sure. The problem will not be solved until all humans learn to work WITH their environment, not against it.

I doubt this will happen soon. It's against our very nature. We thrived because we fought nature and "dominated" it. The same drive is still there. It won't go away. The best we can do is redirect it, toward ecological harmony and acceptance of our (modest) place in things.

I'm not optimistic that this will happen. I hope enough people are that optimistic, and will keep fighting the important fights, the ones that will do the most to reduce environmental damage. Slaughterhouses are part of it, but the farms themselves are much bigger threats to the land around them. The intensive farming of animals is very hard on the ecosystem, but we'll get a much bigger, faster "win" for our Earth if we can get ourselves off of oil. All oil, not just foreign oil, or biodiesel, or any other form of long carbon chain going into a fire.

Sorry to use your wonderful blog for my rant. I just had to vent, and your review gave me an occasion to do so.

/may all beings thrive while they are blessed with life

Amy said...

Thanks for posting about this movie, I don't think I could watch it, but it is good to know it is out there awakening people to the need for change.

Chelsea said...

I started watching this, but turned it off when they compared the suffragette movement to Nazi Germany. Which is a shame because I'm sure the rest of the movie is great in an informative kind of way, but I couldn't get behind it, what with it saying women wanting equal rights is in the same boat as people wanting to "purify" the gene pool. Probably not the best way to get half the population to listen to you, let alone putting it in the first 10 minutes.

Anonymous said...

A few answers to some of the blogs:

Vegan Dad: The choice to have no on screen interviews was intentional. In fact, I am using the same format with Unity, a new documentary and follow-up to Earthlings due out in 2009. Of course, any filmmaker can shoot interviews. It's a very common documentary device. You simply find people to reinforce your point of view, (and it also helps fill up screen-time). Yes, I wrote the narrative, but beyond that I wanted the footage to speak for itself. And nothing more ... no talking heads utilized in an effort to agree with me. Admittedly, Earthlings is infused with the filmmaker's point of view. It takes a stand, (hopefully the animal's). And the film does not offer opposing viewpoints to give it so-called "balance." As such, I've been accused of making a propaganda film. Joaquin's somber delivery was simply designed to guide the viewer through all these animal atrocities. It didn't feel right to have him embellish a certain line here and there in order to drive it home. No inflections of tone were required. To the viewer, Joaquin's narration and Moby's music are the calmest component in this otherwise horrific voyage. My sincere apologies to those of you who found it to be tiring or monotonous.

Mado: You use the words assaulting and desensitizing in regards to a non-fiction film. When distributors were viewing Earthlings at an industry screening, they asked me to re-edit quite a bit of it "so as to not upset viewers." They asked me to "cut around some of the more unpleasant aspects." 'How much truth should I cut out of this non-fiction film' was the thought that kept crossing my mind. Horror films are assaulting and desensitizing, and completely fictional. Writers actually sit around conjuring it up, and viewers flock to it in droves. But when it comes to hard-hitting non-fiction, what is it about humans that makes us not want to look at stuff? It's actually become PC to not be subjected to anything too upsetting. People have angrily emailed me for having exposed them to it -- as though the atrocities were my fault.

Chelsea: I am not comparing animals with women or slaves. The comparison is between the mentality of the taskmasters -- the Nazi apathy toward Jews, the slave owners' apathy toward slaves, the government's apathy toward suffragettes, etc. Therein lies the parallel. We see the same apathy in regards to how animals are treated now ... total disregard for their suffering, (simply put -- the suffering of another expression of life different than our own). Apathy, by definition, means you don't consider something to be of importance. Nazis killed because they viewed Jews as far beneath them on the evolutionary scale. Slaves were treated the same way, as were the brave women fighting for the right to vote. This is why the film opens with The Three Stages of Truth:
1. Ridicule
2. Violent Opposition
3. Acceptance.

I hope some of these comments help explain why the film was made the way it is.

Shaun Monson
Director - Earthlings

Aja said...

I forced myself to watch this movie, and don't regret having done so. I became physically ill about an hour in, and can still see certain images in my mind. Anytime I see a fur coat I remember one particularly terrible scene in the movie.
If there is a possibility that you can sit through any of the film you should try. I watched it after only a few months of steady veganism, and now I intend to stay committed.
I don't remember the suffragette movement comments, but I think there's a lot of hyperbole used in defense of animals. We could go on about that for days. I wonder if anyone can recall the exact statement. I need to further question myself as to why I excused it from an AR video, but would've flipped if I heard that in another context. Thanks for pointing that out, Chelsea.

I don't think avoiding this movie is ignoring the the plight of animals. If you know its going to make you sick and far too disturbed then you should avoid it completely.

Vegan Dad said...

Man, how cool is it that the director of Earthlings left a comment on my blog? I love how close-knit the vegan community is.

Shaun, thanks for your insight. Obviously, a director has to make many choices when making a film, and it is interesting to understand yours. Despite my criticisms, I still think you have made a powerful film.

Theresa said...

I have to respond to the comment left anonymously above. Anonymous stated that "I doubt this will happen soon. It's against our very nature. We thrived because we fought nature and 'dominated' it. The same drive is still there. It won't go away."

In my mind, it is thinking like this that runs the risk of maintaining a society that is racist, sexist, speciesist, imperislist and valorizes the desecration of the environment. It is not against my nature to be compassionate towards the world I live in and all the other animals, human and non-human, in it. I know many, many, many other people for whom dominating nature is not a 'natural,' 'innate' state of being human.

I'm not sure who you mean when you say "We thrived", but I assume you mean humans. And I have to say, I wouldn't call the state of being we are in right now 'thriving'. The giant hole in the ozone layer, the constant rise of heart disease and obeseity, increasing global poverty, the rapidly decreasing stores of natural resources, and a vast variety of other horrifying realities seem to indicate that we are crashing and burning. Fast.

Let's stop acquiescing to those who tell us it's unnatural to be compassionate.

maybeso said...

My college Veg Club screened the movie, and I didn't even know what it was about. I had to leave after about 20 minutes because I couldn't stop crying, and it messed me up for days. That being said, I'm really oversensitive most of the time anyway.

Anyway, I love your blog! It's really helped me through that vegetarian to vegan transition. Great job!

Anonymous said...

Yes, thanks to Shaun Monson for replying to Vegan Dad's critique of the film. I can use some of those comments as "talking points" to answer some peoples' objections to this documentary. Truth is sometimes hard. But denying ourselves access to the truth is usually not the best way to make decisions.

Eve said...

I too found myself unable to sit through the whole film at once - it is extremely upsetting - as it should be. I hate to say, but I would be hesitant to show much of this film to anyone not already supportive of veganism and animal rights. As the director of the film commented, I would anticipate that the reaction would be one of anger at having to deal with viewing such graphic images. As I have more and more experiences talking with people about veganism, I am constantly shocked at the reactions - why is it that even a glimmer of the horrible truth moves a select few into action, but causes most others to shrink further into their bubble of ignorant bliss? What makes us different?

On that note - I have enjoyed reading your blog for some time now (and am finally coming out of the woodwork, so to speak!) - thank you for sharing your recipes and insight with all of us :)

the animals wanna live. the trees wanna grow. said...

I finally watched Earthlings the other day. It has been on my list of documentaries to watch for months, but just knowing how painful it was going to be made me put it off. I guess Vegan Dad's post was a reminder to just do it, like ripping off a bandaid... only just WAY more painful. I cried pretty much non-stop. Not just tears welling up in my eyes, but outloud bawling. It was incredibly heartbreaking to see how low humanity can go. Some of these images will forever be in my mind. It was definitely a powerful film, and it was a reminder of why I am vegan, and that I need to do more for the animals. I am trying to encourage other people to see it because I honestly believe it is our duty to know what we are doing to our fellow creatures, and the kind of cruelty we are otherwise contributing to.

Thank you Shaun Monson for this film, and Vegan Dad for the reminder to watch it.

Anna Down Under said...

I forced myself to watch the whole thing. I was already a vegan, but I didn't want to be someone who refused to see the truth. I cried, and I couldn't get some of the images out of my head for a long time. Still remember some vividly. But it definitely reinforced to me that I will never return to eating animal products, and I've never been someone who would wear fur either. I don't even want fake fur, fur. I think everyone should watch this movie -- though I know some of my non vegan friends would never. They don't want to change what they do, and they don't want to know. One actually said it's her right to remain ignorant of that so she can go on living her life as she chooses. I suppose that's true -- but I don't understand choosing ignorance. Thanks for the review, Vegan Dad.

Mike said...

I purchased a bulk package of this film so that through my conversations and activism, I am prepared to give out a copy. It is a difficult movie to watch. I've watched it several times, because any time I give it to someone to watch, I offer to watch it with them. It requires a follow-up conversation for most people who have never considered veganism, because it's all so very mind-blowing. My recommendation is to not leave people hanging. One immediate conclusion people have been trained to draw is that factory farming is bad, but family farms are OK. Verse yourself with resources like Humane Myth and then make them a Vegan Dad meal once they regain their appetite!

It's a shame that some would paint a documentary like Earthlings as extreme, desensitizing, or even the wrong approach. What are extreme are the glaring inconsistencies in our behavior. Who is desensitized is the general public who has allowed themselves to become manipulated and disconnected such that they spend their money; oblivious to what behaviors they may be supporting. The wrong approach is to suggest that human nature cannot change, or that because there are other problems in the world, this one should not be a primary focus. Besides the fact that animal agri-business is one of the top factors in global warming, water waste, destruction of rain forest, global food shortage, and a laundry list of human diseases, it's also one of the easiest ones for you to participate in: stop eating meat. Then, if there are bigger issues to tackle, great! Go out and find some other cause to support. But to ignore this one in light of others is simply preposterous.

Anyhow, it's an incredibly important film and I highly recommend everyone see it.

On another note: thanks, Vegan Dad, for being such a culinary inspiration to me and all of my recent converts!


Anonymous said...

thanks for the review. i became a vegetarian after watching earthlings about 2 and a half years ago, and still going strong.

found your blog via the vegancooking community on livejournal, and will be trying the veggie lunch meat soon.

thanks and take care.

- caroline

crazyloo said...

Hi I just as of last week decided to give up my evil ways and become Vegan. I owe it to this documentary. After watching this movie I have gave it up--with no regrets. I cannot believe that I have been so blind. So far its been a week so I'm a newbie. However, I just wanted to give my salute to this movie and encourage everyone to watch it. Well especially meat eaters.It changed me-for the better. Thank you

Evita said...

Hi Thanks for the review. I just watched this and wanted to see what other people were saying.

I did make myself sit through it for the review, but I was prepared. I have been vegan now for a year and vegetarian for 2 so to me this was in a way old news, and yet at the same time, one can never look past this as it continues to this day.

If you would like to check out my thoughts on the movie, you can find them here:

Krista said...

I watched this movie about three years ago at a viewing they had at the college my husband attends. There were fliers up all over campus and I was curious to see what it was.

We walked out of that showing vegetarians. I've been 99.9% vegan for the last year, and my husband has recently become vegan. It was very hard to watch, but I grew up on a farm and butchered animals before so I was prepared for that. But the stark contrast as to how we treated our animals and how factory animals are treated gave us the courage to become vegetarian, and we've never looked back.