Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Elephant in the Living Room

Ostensibly, The Elephant in the Living Room (2010, dir. Michael Webber) is about Americans who keep dangerous animals—bears, lions, tigers, poisonous snakes, etc.—in their private homes as pets.  The film contrasts the personalities and views of those who insist on their right to own such animals and those who regard the practice as a danger to both the animals and public safety.  Weird personalities and disturbing scenes abound.  The film eventually focuses in on Tim Harrison, an animal rescue expert, and Terry Brumfield, a retired, disabled truck driver who found that owning lions cured his depression.  I have to say that I was more interested in the general phenomenon of exotic pet ownership than in these individual examples.  Though there is much pathos in the tale of the retired truck driver and his lions, it is finally difficult to feel that the particulars of his situation justified the miserable conditions in which his lions lived.  In a painful and difficult scene, his prized male lion is accidentally killed when an electrical short circuit electrifies his cage.  A heart-rending soundtrack and numerous close-up images of the truck driver’s grief-stricken face muck up the sentimentality.

Admittedly, in the story of Tim and Terry the film encapsulates some of the issues in the ownership of exotic pets.  It does touch on the growing problem of wild snakes in the Florida Everglades, but it does not do much with the possibility of African lions and monkeys escaping and establishing populations in the United States.  Maybe the odds are against that happening.

In general this documentary substitutes the pathos of an individual anecdote for a genuine exploration of the topic.


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