Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Elephant in the Living Room is a shocking documentary

Review of documentary The Elephant in the Living Room directed by Michael Webber

As someone who frequently browses the documentary category, I skim a lot of weird titles. Some subjects are so strong that the title is thought provoking enough and watching has to be delayed until I’m mentally ready, but I was recently hooked by the unexpected title The Elephant in the Living Room. It is an expose on the widespread and little known realm of exotic animal keepers.

Exotic animals is a broad category that includes:

Chimpanzees and monkeys
Burmese pythons
Any lethally poisonous snakes and reptiles, like gaboon vipers, one of the most dangerous in the world

It is not abnormal for these dangerous animals to escape. And don’t be surprised if that escaped 600-pound predator is hungry, perhaps even starving, because you know it's hard to keep a tiger in meat on a regular Joe’s wages.

The keepers of these animals sometimes get killed.

The keepers of these animals sometimes kill their pets. This is a sad result but I can easily imagine how someone could be driven to such an action. Imagine your beloved tiger kitten growing up and now you have to fear for your life. Wow, how do you sleep at night living with that?

The keepers of these animals sometimes release the exotic animals into the wild to get rid of them. Who knows how many exotic poisonous snakes have slipped away into the grasses over the years? Burmese pythons are now endemic in Florida. No matter how many are killed or removed, the pythons are now thriving in that environment.

The main narrator of the film is Tim Harris a public safety officer for city of Oakwood near Dayton, Ohio. He has a history of keeping lions and admits to being attracted to this world, but he firmly believes in the necessity of the law enforcement interventions that he participates in.

I was most struck by his statement when he said. "You don’t have to go India to see a tiger. You don’t have to go to Canada to see a cougar. You don’t have to go to Africa to see a viper. You can see it right here, Anytown, USA." 

Think about that one for a while and let it sink in.

I have to wonder if there is something like a lion or wolf or tiger within miles of my house, and I don’t mean at the zoo. This possibility firmly reinforces my belief that you just don’t know what’s in the woods at night.

The Elephant in the Living Room succeeds as an outstanding documentary because of its deeply emotional portrayal of one keeper of lions. His love for the lions is immense but cannot be reconciled with the harsh fact that he cannot provide them with humane shelter. Throughout the documentary the Officer Tim Harris works through several emotional negotiations with the lion keeper as he insists that the situation cannot continue. The lions had already gotten loose and terrified people in the community. The animal control officer works valiantly to find a sanctuary for the animals and convince the owner to give them up. The man clearly should not be attempting to house lions. He’s in ill health and has modest resources. His emotional dependence on the lions as pets is wrong, yet I had only empathy for his absolute love for his kitties. And they WERE kitties to him.  Women are stereotyped as cat lovers, but I say don’t get between a man and his cats.

The Elephant in the Living Room reveals an astounding reality going on throughout the United States and likely other countries too. The subject matter is presented intelligently. I consider this a top shelf documentary because I think about it almost every day.