This piece originally appeared on the Blowfish Blog.
The movie is about bestiality.
I want to tell you that right up front, since it takes a while for the movie to get around to it. A little more specifically, “Zoo” is a documentary about a 2005 incident in which a man died of a perforated colon after engaging in sexual activity with — read “getting fucked in the ass by” — a horse. And it’s about the small group of people — other zoophiles, or “zoos” — who shared these sexual activities and interests as a community: talking about it on the Internet, engaging in it at small gatherings, and sometimes photographing or filming it.
The movie is surprisingly tasteful. Almost too tasteful. The style is arty and allusive and tangential, taking so long to come to the point that for a while I thought I’d sat down in the wrong theater, and rarely discussing its subject head-on. It was often frustrating, and at times downright confusing. It’s almost as if the director was trying so hard to be tasteful and respectful, trying so hard to deflect accusations of appealing solely to shock value and prurient interest, that he wound up shying away from the topic at hand.
For all its shy elusiveness, though, “Zoo” is quite effective at getting something across that’s very difficult to get across — namely, the way the zoos see themselves and their sexuality. It’s very disconcerting, actually: I do have issues with zoophilia, mostly to do with consent (more on that in a bit). But the way the zoos talk about what they do and how they feel — it’s about love and affection, nobody gets hurt, they care about the animals intensely and feel a powerful connection with them, they’ve felt this way since childhood, they have a supportive community of people who feel the same way — makes it sound less like a sexual problem and more like a sexual identity. Like being gay or kinky.
It’s not like the movie made me want to run out and fuck a horse. It just made me understand a little better how people who do want to fuck horses (or dogs, or other animals) feel about themselves and what they do. And that’s a real accomplishment. This is a kink that I have a very hard time wrapping my mind around, and I definitely feel like I now get it a lot better than I did.
But ultimately, I found “Zoo” disappointing. The problem (apart from the shy, tangential elusiveness) is that what I think is the most interesting, most troubling, most central issue with zoophilia — consent — is barely touched on at all.
I mean, they address it. But here’s how they address it. The zoophile people say, “The animals consent, they can consent and they do.” The anti-zoophile people say, “The animals don’t consent, they have no way to consent.” And that’s pretty much it. That’s the conversation.
Not the most illuminating conversation on the planet.
Well, that’s not quite fair. There is one scene that hits at the heart of the consent issue. And it’s not a scene where consent is discussed or even mentioned. It’s the scene where the authorities have taken possession of the horse in question, and, in order to avoid the possibility that one of the zoophiles might buy the animal and have sex with it some more, have decided to castrate it.
This scene chilled me to the bone. And it got me thinking, more than any other scene in the movie. Yes, I know that castrating horses is common. But think of it from the horse’s point of view. Which do you think the horse experiences as more abusive, more traumatic — people having sex with it, or people surgically removing its balls?
And more to the point: If an animal can’t consent to have sex with a person, how can it consent to be castrated? Or shut up in a pen or a cage or an apartment? Or, for that matter, slaughtered and eaten? Why does our society and our legal system accept all of these things as normal and humane, and yet see having sex with an animal as an unquestioned example of animal abuse?
I’m not a vegan or a hard-core animal rights activist. But I do think these are interesting, important, difficult questions, questions that cut to the heart of the relationship between people and animals.
I just wish the movie had actually taken the time to explore them.