It's really just an hour and a half of extreme animal cruelty and so it's obviously a horrible experience from start to finish. Obviously, there is a point behind it and that's what is supposed to make sitting through this worthwhile but, listen, this isn't the way to change people's minds.
So, before going any further I must reluctantly come out as vegan- yes, after all of that, I am one of them *audience lets out a collective gasp in horror*. Indeed, I was a vegan before I ever watched 'Earthlings'- I'd been avoiding it because I was concerned that it would be more of a propaganda piece than a truly compelling call to arms (or forks, or broccoli, whatever, okay!?).
Unfortunately, having now watched it, for the most part, I think my concerns were correct. Obviously it's true that animals are treated horribly and yes, I agree with the film's general conclusion which is that we should not eat them (go figure). However, 'Earthlings' is so caught up in trying to scare people away from anything involving animals that when it comes to the battle of ideas part, it comes up short. 'Earthlings' is emotional but it's not thoughtful.
Well, the run time is around an hour and a half and the vast, vast, majority of that is dedicated exclusively to real footage. Now the film is structured in a way that aims to point fingers at multiple issues involving animals- animals as food, for fashion, as pets, to be tested on, and for entertainment.
Now some of these are more straightforward than others but even they are more complex than the treatment that they are given in this film. The viewer is bombarded with horrible images to prove each point- don't eat animals, don't wear them, etc. etc. The problem is that showing horrible footage and shouting 'here is all the evidence that you need' just isn't enough.
I'm even more concerned that, for the most part, the horrible footage only pushes people further away from engaging with the issues rather than moving toward trying to address them. My Gran, for example, always mutes the TV during the add breaks because she's sick of hearing about the dying kids with the Kate Bush song in the background. Humans respond to things differently- whilst 'Earthlings' has clearly influenced many to change their lifestyles, it's also surely influenced many to stop thinking about change altogether- they don't want to see the cow get slaughtered while Joaquin Phoenix talks in the background.
Anyway, that argument doesn't mean that the footage shown here should be kept hidden- that's hardly a solution either. Let's return then to my original concern- the lack of complexity. I'll take just a few examples- the film talks about the pet trade and stray dogs, etc., etc. and the arguments seem solid (though I am pretty uninformed on this issue, I admit). Anyway, to go with all of this- there's a shot of a dog being thrown into a dump truck and crushed to death. Now, sure, the dog was probably a stray so it's somewhat relevant or whatever but let's be real- showing a dog being crushed in a dump truck is the most emotionally-manipulative way that one could possibly imagine the topic of the pet trade being discussed under. You bought a dog from a kennel or something? THINK OF THE DOG'S DYING WHINES AS ITS BONES ARE CRUSHED. Honestly, if it wasn't real- I'd find it quite hilarious (but I don't, okay!?).
Another example would be basically the whole discussion around animal testing- the film wants to tell you that we're all Earthlings and so we should all be treated equally and so all of these things are equally wrong. To me, that's just whitewashing- if your position is so strong, why not have a wider discussion around it rather than base all of your arguments on choice footage of terrible stuff happening? Again, this is coming from a vegan- I'm not trying to attack those who oppose all of the practices in this film, I'm just demonstrating that 'Earthlings' itself lacks nuance and real depth.
Yes, we're all Earthlings- let's talk about how we can become better ones then, eh? You'll need to turn down the pig screams a little though so that we can actually have a real discussion. No, you'd rather show me the dog in the dump truck again? Fine, I tried, at least.
If the actions you see in this documentary shock you, your lifestyle, if it hasn't already, has to be reconsidered.
Gut-renching yet essential viewing.
The images in Earthlings are ones that viewers can never forget. In its merciless and brutal honesty, the viewers have to learn things that are a painful truth and witness the visual suffering of animals in a manner so painful it could only be topped by witnessing it in real life as opposed to on screen. There is no denying the shocking effect of the film. Viewers bear witness to animals being tortured, murdered and turned into slaves simply so that the species that dominates this planet can gain physical joy and energy off of their suffering. At times, viewers see pigs who have their ears clipped and their genitals castrated without painkillers before crying out in suffering only to the sound of others doing the same, or even turning to cannibalism to survive the desperate conditions. In a world sheltered by the media who glamourize their killing through big budget KFC commercials, Earthlings is a film which tells the truth. What I learned is that the truth can be more brutal and unforgiving than you could have ever imagined. One of the most difficult things is the fact that while viewers sit behind the screen suffering at the sight of animals being thrown alive into trash compactors or strung up to have their throats slit, there are people on the other side of the screen getting sadistic joy out of killing them. This is practically the epitome of evil in the world's treatment of animals: the fact that taking the life of another creature is actually a source of joy for some people. While the sport of hunting is bad enough, Earthlings shows human beings sadistically beating animals to death with blunt objects until they are beyond dead. The entire film is a brutal depiction of how we treat animals, and that is practically the endeavour of it all which really goes to show exactly what it is to not only bite the hand that feeds us, but stomp and spit on it.
The amount of painful imagery in Earthlings is overwhelming. In that sense, it can leave the viewer in a severe state of disbelief at times. For me, I found that the pain of it all was so shocking that after a while I was desensitized by it. The disgusting treatment of creatures is pushed so much as being a key part of our society's source of food, clothing and entertainment that eventually, the viewer is forced to confront that this kind of violence is actually normalized in our existence and many of us refuse to admit to that. It is hard not to admit it after seeing Earthlings, and though the brutality of the film left me so shocked that the part of me that wanted to cry was unable to by the end of the film, it was such an important experience because director Shaun Monson really holds nothing back at all. He exposes all the brutality of the industry from meat production to puppy mills, and what he reveals is beyond comprehension for even me as a vegetarian. It just reminded me that there is a universe of suffering for animals out there, and this 95 minutes documentary only covered a fraction of it.
One thing which is really important in Animal rights is the treatment of domestic animals. Earthlings forces viewers to confront just how we treat domestic animals in such an expendable manner, dumping them in shelters when we are tired of them careless as to the fact that euthanasia is left to be their fate. When we think of how animals are systematically oppressed, domestic animals are not often thought of. In Earthlings, it is the first thing addressed. There is so much more to confront in the film and so it starts out with something harsh without being excessive in gore. Nevertheless, we see animals being dragged to their deaths and even given the final injection to witness the pain and suffering that is "the peace" of death. From an atmosphere perspective, this gives viewers a chance to transition into the horrors of the documentation. If that section doesn't leave viewers shocked, then the rest of the film is bound to because that is tame in comparison to the rest of the suffering depicted in Earthlings.
And to emphasize the hidden nature of animal sports, Earthlings touches upon concepts such as the treatment of bulls at rodeos, examining their suffering and showing the animals in a more positive light to the savage and violent creatures they are too often depicted as in the media. The only savage creatures in Earthlings are the people who do this to animals and find joy in it, because that is plain sadism.
The narration in the film is thoroughly important. While Earthlings could have used the narration to push a political agenda, instead. Joaquin Phoenix uses his voice simply to explain the truth behind everything that shows. We don't need him to tell us that the awful slave trading and torture in the film is dreadful, he simply explains it all in key detail with a neutral approach to it all. Joaquin Phoenix maintains a sense of wisdom in his role as narrator, and it makes the experience seem all the more legitimate. He ties the script into the film really well, and against the backdrop of the music composed by Moby, it really comes off as being atmospheric.
So although it can be overwhelming, Earthlings does so in the best sense of the word by forcing viewers to confront the brutality in treatments of all animals in different parts of the world which really causes them to re-examine their own existence and the role they play on contributing to the suffering without doing so in a manner which shoves a political agenda down their throat.
How Earthlings sets up it proposition is by it's opening. By elaborating how over the years there existed racism, sexism, and speciesism. This is the idea of assigning different values or rights to members depending on their species, or in other words favoring one's own species. It acknowledges its purpose, in that it is demonstrating how animals have come to serve humankind. Never does it compare these crimes in being directly connected to one another as much it attempts to draw parallels that drive those action. Instead of making a direct comparison to the Holocaust it decides to make correlations; the most significant relation being both are caused by humans with power abusing those without power. What nonsense right? There's no way the Holocaust is similar to...well now that I think about it there's truth to that. The target isn't a single race or religion beliefs in this case, but instead an entire species which is being murdered for another specific purpose. Tackling different aspects of the subject in five segments; pets, food, clothes, entertainment, and scientific research. Each receive different amount of screen time and each use a similar tactic to get their point across. Drawing parallel to a crime alongside footage of that goes along with said segments.
As much Earthlings is consider the definitive animal rights film by animal rights organizations, much like PETA efforts, their delivery can be heavy handed and some aspects flimsy. One of the major flimsy aspects are it statistics on how many animals are killed by humans. Being blown over proportion to the point that makes you questioned how in the world a particular specie shown in the film hasn't become instinct. These statistics go into the billions which holds true for fish, but with other animals just accepting the facts becomes a mind game of what's true and fabricated. There is truth to be found in what's it saying, but exaggerating on the facts partially fail to inform the audience and instead make them question more if the information given to them is true inspite of the footage being played. Another issue is the film becomes very heavy handed in it delivery towards the end. The film last ten minutes beats the "animals suffered for our livelihood, man is bad" point over the head that is gives off an anti-human vibe. Despite claiming that all lifeforms consider Earthlings and should not contain the mindset of speciesism. The music by Moby sets a somber tone without being intrusive, and the narration by Joaquin Phoenix is very matter of fact. Though the script at times seems a bit heavy-handed, even quoting Shakespeare's King Lear at one point, Phoenix's delivery is calm and measured, in contrast with the visual horrors unfolding on-screen.
Earthlings graphic footage of animal cruelty and the degree it shows it too warrant the content in this film is not for everyone. For that it message delivery becomes cloudy, but never is it point ever loss. It certainly heavy handed towards the final minutes, but even before reaching the end it's capable of persuading.