Becoming Animal (2018) ***

November 15th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Peter Mettler, Emma Davie; Documentary with David Abram; Switzerland/UK 2018, 78 min.

Peter Mettler (The End of Time) and Emma Davie (I am Breathing) direct, edit and film philosopher David Abram (The Spell of the Sensuous) as he explores our real sense of alienation from the animal kingdom in a walk around Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The aim is to make us more aware of our status ‘as animals’ so we can improve our understanding of the animal kingdom and redress the balance between the ecological and the technological.

The Grand Teton National Park has a dizzying diversity of wildlife. A snail’s body becomes an immense landscape as the soundscape immerses us in shivering leaves, rushing rivers and the weird spacey pitch of elk bugling at night. Becoming Animal uses the sensory tools of cinema to trace how the written word and technology has affected how we see ourselves as instinctual creatures rather than just intellectual humans.

Driven by wonder, curiosity and a desire for balance between ecological and technological imperatives, Becoming Animal is an invitation to explore our relationship with this “more than human world” and recognise it for what it is: an exquisitely intricate system in which everything is alive and expressive. In our delicate ecosystem humans, animals and landscapes are inextricably interdependent, we do not stand alone and dominate.

Wandering through the part at night Abram feels a sudden sense of visceral communion with the birds, elks and bison. After watching a snail leaving its house, he touches a tree and comments “I feel the tree touching me.. I can feel how they see me from their perspective. Trees respond to shadow and light all the time. Touching them, I feel touched by them.” These observations are followed by a more long sequences, before we return to civilisation, and a monologue about how “the alphabet ended the unity between image and message. The alphabet has ended this status, because now, when people see letters, they become special property of humans”. Abstract messages like ‘Welcome’ and “We are erupting with savings” proves the point. Cut to a bison, who keeps some cars waiting on the road. The cars “are our shells for immortality.” And: “Technology always reflects back to ourselves, and we are beginning to interact with the technology.” We see a sign “Please check surroundings for safety” and Abrams concludes “these tools help us, to engage with nature”. Whilst fast-forward images of trees rush by, Abrams explains that “technology tries to undo the ancient relationship between men and nature” “Do we still have the awareness of the wind..Because by-products of our civilisation are dumped everywhere, and change the movement of the wind”.

This provocative and vibrantly evocative film is sometimes hampered by is puzzling messages that almost add to the existing confusion. In the end we get the point – but it could have been simpler without the psychobabble. AS

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