Passion River presents
"I soon realized that trust is a funny thing beween people and livestock, because sooner or later the trust is always broken."- Jason Young
Stars: Jason Young
Other Stars: Julia Young, Jessica Gerrits, John Gerrits, Ian Sweet, Michael Sweet, Robert Brydon, Jim Lamb, Mike McGowan, Carl Benjamin
Director: Jason Young
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (scenes of animal slaughter and processing)
Run Time: 01h:14m:00s
Release Date: 2005-11-22
DVD ReviewThe cover art on Jason Young's 2003 documentary Animals—featuring a meat case full of sausage, ribs and steak labeled with names like Rosie, Isaac and Ellie—might actually be selling the wrong message here to some degree. Animals is product of The National Film Board of Canada, an organization that consistently sponsors unusual and engaging documentaries, but it looks alarmingly like a PETA poster. What makes that so odd is that during the course of the doc, the softspoken Young (who with his long ponytail and bushy beard looks like he'd be right at home at a Phish show) never claims any allegiance with the animal rights organization, and in fact he proudly admits to being a meat-eater. His moral dilemma came when he wrestled with the role of animals as food, so he decided to sell his home, purchase a working farm in Nova Scotia with his wife, and raise his own animals to slaughter to "give them the best life until their inevitable end."
It's a small scale farming operation, but Animals follows Young, who directs and narrates the film, as he purchases of a couple of pigs, a calf, a sheep, a goat, and even a bunny or two to raise until their eventual harvest. The fact that Young gives his animals human names immediately crosses that imaginary anthropomorphic boundary, making their inevitable slaughter subconciously akin to killing a pet. That is perhaps a tad manipulative on Young's part, and tends to color his message a bit, yet throughout the doc he remains very vocal about being a meat-eater. He appears to accept animals as food, but he begins to find the act of delivering the death sentence a difficult but necessary thing to do.
He constructs an area on his property he calls "The Sanctuary" where he will carry out the slaughters, and his first kill is a rabbit. The camera never shows the wooden club hit the animal, but we hear it and see Young's expression as he contemplates making that first blow. Again, a bit on the emotional string-pulling side of things, but this comes after a fairly graphic moment where Young has visited a local farmer who raises rabbits as livestock. She gives an example of the kill (a bullet between the eyes), and then the skinning begins. As the doc progresses, some of the sequences get progressively more graphic—though in a clinical sort of way—but Young never waffles from his stand as a meat-eater, and at one point features a barbeque where the main course is Red the pig, an animal that he slaughtered, scalded, and cleaned. The camera lingers on Young as he takes his first bite, and since we witnessed the initial acquistion of the young, squealing piglet—long before it became a full-grown pig—there is an intentional awkwardness to the moment.
I'm a city boy who goes to the grocery store to buy faceless, prepackaged meat, and I generally try to not consider the physical acts of livestock processing. From that standpoint, understandably there are visuals here that are tough to endure, specifically the film's final scene. As a filmmaker, though, Young doesn't preach too heavily either way—his farmer friends all seem like pleasant folk, and their mechanical detachment from acts like eviscerating a pig never seems cruel, just hard to watch. Jason Young never experiences a vegan epiphany as a result, nor is that really what Animals is all about.
The meat at the butcher doesn't cut itself up, you know.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||no|
Image Transfer Review: Passion River has issued Animals in what is referred to on the backcover as 4:3 letterbox, which works out to an approximate 1.85:1 nonanamorphic aspect ratio. Image quality varies somewhat, with some sequences looking a bit soft around the edges, while at other times the level of detail is more pronounced, but still not razor sharp. Colors never appear especially vivid, but are on par with any of 1,000 small budget documentaries. Some shimmer and ringing shows up periodically, as well.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio is provided in 2.0 stereo. The track is understandably modest, delivering clear narration throughout, which is about all that can be expected from a small documentary such as this.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
Extras Review: No extras found on my screener copy, so your mileage may vary. The disc is cut into 8 chapters.
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsThe good news is that this is not an overbearingly manipulative PETA project, so the message that self-professed meat eater/farmer/filmmaker Jason Young tries to convey actually manages to present both sides of the emotional question about animals and their role as food.
It is not always easy to watch, especially during the final moments, but the reality is still there. Questions aren't necessarily answered, and perhaps Young's agenda leans more dramatically one way than another, but the presentation seems to allow both sides of the argument equal voice. If you're stuck in the middle, however, then I imagine Animals will make you uncomfortable more than once... but it will make you think. It says something when a doc can do that.
Rich Rosell 2005-11-20