EO (aka Eo) review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
EO joins a long line of avant-garde films about the world seen from the perspective of animals. This is not in the same vein as something like Milo & Otis or Planet Earth, where some human provides a voice for the animal. This picture is in the tradition of Au Hasard Balthazar by holding firm on an animal’s view and letting the world surrounding him paint a picture of humanity’s faults. That contemplative nature will not make EO an easy film for those unwilling to let the natural and free-flowing pacing unfold before them. However, those willing to watch and listen for this somber journey of one donkey may find it as profound as Balthazar.
EO is established as a circus donkey. We watch as he endures the lights and sounds of the circus-like a hazy dream, where the humans confuse him and the lights blind him. Around EO are people who love him and despise him. One man in the circus beats him while another feeds him. Animal rights protesters forced the circus to give up EO, and various people ushered the donkey around. He ends up on a ranch where children pet him. He becomes used as transportation for dead animals. He is hauled in a truck by a man who has his throat slit. He becomes the mascot of one football team and the punching bag of the opposition. He is nursed back to health but still forced into whatever path man has laid before him.
In addition to having a lot of slow moments of realism, there’s some surreality to how the donkey views the world. One of the most haunting sequences is when the donkey dreams of a world with a red sky and a towering windmill. Framed darkly and posed with extreme music, a strangeness to these moments drew my eyes more to what was possibly going through this donkey’s mind. As the film continues, it feels like we’re imposing the story within the donkey but that the donkey is writing his account of humanity’s ills. During one unique scene, EO kicks a man hauling dead animal bodies and decides to trot off. But trot off to wear? It’s a narrow path in front of him, one he cannot escape.
EO is an all-encompassing film in terms of how it wants to portray its world of small comforts and bitter cruelty. The donkey gets to experience every gentle touch, harsh beating, and limited freedom he is granted. It’s easy to show some love for this donkey simply by how cute he appears, but the film holds on to this character to question what the animal thinks of us. Stare long enough at the donkey, and you’ll see yourself in the mute eyes of darkness. With that inner awareness of the world, EO’s more extraordinary story takes hold of the viewer.
EO isn’t exactly a trailblazer in this regard, and it's tapping into some pretty common aspects of man’s relationship with animals present in similar meandering tales of non-human characters. It’s also not ideal for those who can’t understand a picture that doesn’t blast them with dialogue every minute. The film slowly washed over me, and I found myself greatly engrossed in what this film says about our world and what world we’re crafting for the animals we share it with. And in case there was any concern, don’t worry; no animals were harmed in making this film. Something to remember when you get to the scene of the donkey being beaten.