And yet it raises questions of judgment and morality when, for 80 minutes, shadowy figures and obfuscating descriptions dominate. Yes, we come to understand the issue, the group that convenes for some TV, some cocktails, and then some bestiality; a group that keeps in touch with each other and like-minded international zoophiles over the internet. Rationalizations include their professed love of horses, a preference for no emotional commitment and involvement with a sexual partner, and the camaraderie of like-minded "zoos," as they call themselves. They add that they believe the horses feel no pain and, in fact, that the horses consent, an assertion we hear Rush Limbaugh defending in an audio snippet. I'm not going to sugar coat what I consider an offensive and abusive practice, as director/co-writer Devor and fellow writer Charles Mudede do.
Zoo relies on ambiguous, shadowy images, creepy music, and calm voiceover by principals involved in sex with horses. They're identified by their internet names only-Coyote, H, and the Happy Horseman. The skeleton of the film is the July 2005 incident in Enumclaw, a rural area in the state of Washington where, at the time, bestiality was still legal. Kenneth Pinyan (known online as Mr. Hands), a 45-year-old engineer for Boeing, bled to death from a colon ruptured during sex with an Arabian stallion. His buddies dropped him off (anonymously) at an emergency room. The investigation by the Seattle area police led to dawning awareness of the truth and, soon, the involvement of those committed to humane animal treatment. Hope for Horses is represented in the film by Jenny Edwards. The media frenzy capitalized on the titillating possibilities, something that Zoo, to its credit, completely resists, refusing the pander to those interested in salacious images. But the question is whether such a thoroughly non-judgmental stance best serves this topic. I'd have liked more factual, researched information. We get audio snippets from principals who are played in the film by actors (with a couple exceptions.)
Many films have revealed the secret, shocking activities of apparently well-adjusted individuals. Zoo participates in that arena. Perhaps it's axiomatic and totally unnecessary to condemn such sexual choices, but I still wonder about the resistance to inclusion of more direct confrontation here. In interviews, the filmmakers acknowledged that their "fair approach" led subjects to open up to them. We learn that one zoophile grew up a Baptist. As explanation, he says, "God doesn't hate anyone so why am I this way?" One man started having sex with horses at 16 and loved it, he says. Another is a truck stop worker, another a maintenance worker on the infamous farm, and they all justify their practices. But specious defense screams for rebuttal and Devor supplies none.
At Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium at 8 p.m. from Friday, June 22nd through Sunday, June 24th . For more information, call the Webster University Film Series at 314-968-7487 or go to the web site.