“Although other animals may be different from us, this does not make them LESS than us”
― Marc Bekoff
Hey bebes, I’m back! I ran a 15k two weeks ago and then immediately came down with the flu, which turned into pneumonia. That put me out of commission, and knocked me off my two-posts-a-week goal for 2014. Balls. Anyway, I’m feeling stronger now so I’m back in the saddle!
I finally watched Speciesism: The Movie last night. I had been waiting to view it with my vegan Meetup group but unfortunately had to miss movie night as I was still pretty sick at that point. The movie gave me a lot of food for thought; it was unwise of me to watch it right before bed because I was up most of the night thinking and reflecting.
Speciesism: The Movie Review
I found the movie to be….ok. In all honesty it was not the best documentary I’ve seen. I don’t regret watching it because I think the topic of speciesism is very important, critical even, and I want people thinking and talking about it. So in that sense, I’m glad Mark Devries made this documentary, if for nothing else than to get the topic out there in the public forum.
My main beef with Speciesism: The Movie is that it’s just a collection of facts and interviews presented in a completely disjointed manner. There was never a clear parallel drawn between anything presented in the film and the main topic of speciesism. As a longish time vegan, I was able to make a lot of connections on my own from years of doing research. However, I fear that someone watching this movie who is not vegan, or has not spent a considerable amount of time looking at our food culture critically, would be left wondering what the point is.
The whole first half of the movie consists of unrelated information about factory farming, and speciesism as a topic is not addressed until the midway point. This could have been ok if presented properly, but instead you’re left sitting there for about 45 minutes asking yourself, “Where is he going with this?!”
I think the lack of a developed thesis, so to speak, is partially due to Devries’ viewpoint not being clear. He doesn’t make a concise thesis statement in the beginning, nor does he properly explain what set him on this path (besides showing footage of a bear protest in the UK, footage that he never really explains). At times, during interviews, he claims that he’s trying to disprove animal activists’ viewpoint, but it’s not clear if that is truly the driving force behind the film or if it’s simply an interview tactic. He spends a lot of the film focusing on himself and showing footage of himself working on the film, so this lack of a clear motivator on his part causes Speciesism: The Movie to spin on its axis, unfocused.
Devries’ interview with Peter Singer, in particular, is at times cringe-worthy. I can’t imagine getting face time with Singer, arguably the most influential animal rights philosopher to ever live, and saying something as thoughtless as, “What we’re doing to animals can’t be wrong, it just can’t be.” Singer, usually unflappable, looked offended and scoffed out, “What? You’re just going to say that, without even making a counterargument?” *Dying inside*
Devries interviews some powerhouse thinkers and gets great insight from them, but then does nothing with the information. The last line of the film is something to the effect of, “What happens now? My job was to present this information, the rest is up to you.” Uhhh….no it’s not! The rest is up to ALL of us, together. You can’t examine how humanity as a whole treats animals and then just bow out of the discussion. It’s this attitude that causes the film to feel less impactful than it should. The filmmaker basically approaches the film as, “Hey, here’s a bunch of disconnected stuff! Draw your own conclusions!”, which leaves the viewer feeling un-invested in the material they just saw.
Mark Devries is young, 22, at the time of filming. His youth and inexperience shows; his seems to believe that simply showing a bunch of stuff results in some profound philosophical insight. For me, the most upsetting evidence of this is when he films his own father talking about the excruciating pain that he suffers everyday as the result of an accident that left his body permanently injured, and then just drops the topic of pain altogether, flitting off to something else in the next scene. His father, before being filmed for the movie, refused to discuss the accident or the resulting injuries, making the scene that much more poignant. To not connect it to anything else in the film deeply cheapens what is otherwise a heart-wrenching moment of brutal honesty about the effects of living with unending pain. That moment could have been so easily connected to what pigs, poultry and dairy cows go through, but instead the scene was left to stand on it’s own. I don’t know that someone who unconcerned with (or unaware of) animal welfare would make the connection without the line being drawn for them.
One thing that Devries does do well, and which I haven’t really seen done in any of the other documentaries I’ve watched, is connect to the human suffering that results from factory farming. His interview with a hog farm worker dying of cancer is deeply moving. Just typing about it is bringing tears to my eyes. The hog farmer’s venom and fury when he talks about the mix of piss and shit that runs off hog farms, poisoning the surrounding communities, giving cancer to children and making the water untouchable, not to mention undrinkable, done “all for a piece of meat” gave me chills. He spits out the word “meat” with a contempt so strong and absolute, from a mouth that is sunken in by cancer, from lungs that have collapsed by cancer, I don’t know who could walk away from that undisturbed. The film does a great job of actually showing how communities are ravaged by hog farms, how human life is also considered expendable in the pursuit of meat. Other documentaries have certainly addressed this issue, but Speciesism: The Movie is the first one I’ve seen to really get down on the personal level and make it emotional.
I know it seems like I hated the film, but I didn’t hate it. I am simply disappointed, I feel that this film was so urgently important that I wish the topic had been handled by someone with the maturity and experience to do it justice. I wanted a Food Inc. or Blackfish level film – one that could dig deep and make clear, concise points that would get the everyday person thinking. One that could be screened on CNN for mass consumption. One that would get my carnist friends on Facebook talking.
I would encourage everyone to watch Speciesism: The Movie because there are some incredible interviews in there, and some valuable information. It gives enough that a group of critical thinkers could get together afterwards and have an interesting, enlightening discussion, and I think it can help those of us fighting for an end to speciesism to have more tools in our tool belt when talking to speciesists.
This film has given me a lot of topics for reflection and discussion, which I will carefully unpack and post about in the coming weeks. One of the most moving moments, for me, was a scene of a (very hot, hello, are you single? call me!) man driving a car, talking about how when you see and accept speciesism is real, when you realize that you and everyone you know and love are every minute of the day participating in the largest holocaust known to man, you almost collapse under the weight of it. His speech is eloquent and so true to how I felt and feel. We who are fighting speciesism need to support each other in dealing with that weight, that grief, and also realize that it is our number one obstacle in getting others to see the truth and make change. No one wants to believe that what they are doing is not just wrong, but so morally corrupt that it could (will!) one day be viewed on the same level as slavery, genocide and the Holocaust. We need to find ways to help people come around in way that involves compassion for what they will go through once they open that door.
Have you seen Speciesism: The Movie? What did you think of it? What scene made the greatest impact on you?