It may be impossible to ever fully understand what turns somebody else on, but usually we can at least kinda see the reasoning. I may be horrified by the thought that there are people who’d prefer Jessica Simpson to Alyson Hannigan or dumbfounded by someone who’d choose Seann William Scott over Seth Rogen, but those preferences don’t completely defy comprehension. By the same token, open-minded people may be able to imagine why someone would be an exhibitionist or a bondage submissive or a watersports enthusiast, even if it’s totally not their thing. Even something as horrible as pedophilia isn’t as thoroughly alien as we’d like to think — how many of us breathed a Mark Foleyesque sigh of relief when Shia LaBeouf or Lindsay Lohan reached the age of consent?
Still, there’s one fetish so bizarre that it makes sense to very few who don’t share it, so taboo that many people don’t want to talk about it or even admit that it exists, so that it remains legal in some jurisdictions simply because legislators can’t countenance it. Bestiality — or zoophilia, as its practitioners prefer — is so far under the radar that we rarely think of it at all; if we do, it’s as the punchline to a joke about lonely sheep farmers. So it’s somewhat surprising that serious filmmakers would take it up as the subject of a documentary, but what’s truly remarkable is that the final product is restrained, artful, and even strangely moving.
Zoo is writer/director Robinson Devor and co-writer Charles Mudede’s exploration of the events surrounding the 2005 death of a man at a farm in Enumclaw, Washington, of a perforated colon after being anally penetrated by a horse. This man, one of a group who regularly visited the farm for this purpose, is identified in the film only by his online persona, Mr. Hands, out of respect for his family (I choose to do the same, though his identity, the full details of the case, and even — God save us all — a home video of him in flagrante equus* are all a Google search away); the film gives us the opportunity to hear from others in his unusual social circle, as the surprisingly thoughtful, articulate men describe meeting on the Internet; gathering at the farm for frozen daiquiris, DVD watching, and conversation; and having sexual congress with livestock.
Despite its lurid subject matter, the film is tastefully, even elegantly, constructed, with no scenes of equine intercourse to upset the esthetic effect. The film’s visuals are, by necessity, all reenactments, interpreting the events surrounding Mr. Hands’ death in the most poetic way possible; its soundtrack consists of interviews — with three of his friends, identified only by nicknames, and with the animal rescue worker who was brought in to care for the horse following the incident — interwoven with Paul Moore’s moody, atmospheric score. Combined with Sean Kirby’s eerie, gorgeously baroque cinematography, the effect is downright hypnotic. It seems almost perverse to willfully take a subject so bizarre and disturbing and esthetize it into something beautiful, but, love it or hate it, there’s no denying the film’s seductive power.
Devor and Mudede treat the zoophiliacs (zoos for short; thus the film’s title) with respect and even sympathy, making their situation and their social isolation completely relatable, even as the zoos desperately seek to rationalize their aberrant desires. The filmmakers make us feel sorry for the zoos, but they don’t dig very deep; at 80 leisurely minutes, they barely have time to cover the story of Mr. Hands and his friends, let alone explore what makes someone a zoo or what place, if any, a zoo might have in society. We’re left with as many questions as we are answers, but we’ve been taken on a journey few would have otherwise taken, and damned if there aren’t some fascinating sights along the way.
But don’t watch that video that’s online. Seriously. That’s one sight you really don’t want to see.
Jeremy C. Fox really loves Patti Smith, is ambivalent at best about bestiality. You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Zoo / Jeremy C. Fox
Film | April 30, 2007 | Comments ()