Friday, April 29, 2011

The lion in the horse trailer

Wow, oh wow what a documentary. If Michael Moore implied that Americans were gun fetishists, this movie argues we fetishize everything -- even hapless wild animals who become victims of our smothering codependent love.

The film follows Tim, a compassionate public safety officer in suburban Ohio as we learn in chilling detail how out of control the exotic pet business has become. Tim travels to underground exotic pet conventions in Pennsylvania where children are bought deadly African gaboon vipers as presents and terrified monkeys are auctioned off like toy dolls.

A key subject is Terry, a train wreck of a disabled man who is given two African lion cubs as pets in the hopes they will cheer him up. As in, You look down, here have a rhinoceros! Terry dutifully bottle feeds his two "house cats" until they're adults. The documentary begins when the predators are four years old and the male is over 500 pounds of dangerous animal. After one of the lions escapes and is captured chasing cars on the interstate, Terry confines the two cats to a modified horse trailer where they live out their days lying on compacted cat crap that looks as hard as cement while every fly in the state of Ohio crawls on them.

I wanted to hate Terry, I really did. He's everything that is hopelessly wrong with America. Terry is broken, overweight, unemployed and loves his exotic cats despite the increasing realization that they may kill him ... if he doesn't first.

The documentary follows Tim to the various reaches of the eastern U.S., including Florida where Burmese pythons are taking over the Everglades, out-breeding every indigenous reptile in their path.

Later, back in Ohio, Tim wonders if he's really doing any good tracking down escaped exotic predators -- wouldn't it be better to leave them in the "wild" of the suburbs and hope they don't eat a 10 year old?

The film is flawless -- all claustrophobic close ups on the humans to emphasize how confining the animal's lives must be. And, finally it is not without a happy ending. Some of the big cats do find a sort of respite on the prairie in Colorado.

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