When the Enumclaw Horse Incident broke (in rural Washington, where bestiality was not officially illegal), the outrage centered on animal rights, specifically the horse's lack of consent and the consequent "cruelty" of the situation. Now this is all very nasty, but I ask: If a huge horse with a gigantic boner is placed in front of a happy human butthole and starts banging away, can we really say there was cruelty involved? Kinkiness, yes. Craziness, perhaps. Flexibility, for sure. As for whether or not the tumescent stallion consented to the act, we can debate but will never definitively know.
So allow me to pose another question, this time to the righteous spay-and-neuter set: How is chopping off a dog's balls (for his own good) less cruel than licking them (which is, you must admit, also for his own good)? There isn't a pet on the planet that has consented to surgery or, for that matter, being kept in an apartment, fed (poisonous) Alpo, or dressed in funny little sweaters. Let's not pretend we domesticate animals for anything other than our pleasure (emotional and ethical), and in doing so inflict all manner of unnatural things on them in the name of their health and happiness. Did the Enumclaw zoophiles pervert the nature of their animals any more than some Chihuahua-toting bimbo?
I can't believe I'm thinking about this stuff, but I'm weirdly grateful to Zoo for going there. The beautiful and beguiling new film by Robinson Devor meditates on the Enumclaw Horse Incident through a hypnotic blend of original reporting, staged re-enactment, testimony of involved parties (both zoophiles and local law enforcement), and pervasive, somewhat precious lyricism. (Writing in Cinemascope, critic Rob Nelson mischievously described the aesthetic as "crossbred.") Zoo marks a conceptual, if not dramatic advance on Police Beat, Devor's 2005 episodic mood piece about an African immigrant working as a Seattle bike cop. The man does not lack for ideas.
Co-written by journalist Charles Mudede, Zoo doesn't tell a story so much as summon an obscure psychosexual atmosphere and drift on its currents. Beyond non-judgmental, it's liberated from the norm in every sense; the willfully poetic form is at least as provocative as the sordid content. Meaning comes into focus retrospectively, coalescing from a haze of bleary DV impressionism and murmuring soundscape. Intensely introspective, Zoo moves the mind to reflect on fundamental questions of culture and psyche: the relation of man to animal, the limits of sexuality, the contours of community. As long as these subjects have been pondered, people have gone to bed with beasts; the Enumclaw boys are distant descendents of Pasiphaë. Devor has noted how the man-boy love discoursed on in Plato's Symposium, "one of the founding texts of our civilization," could now pass for NAMBLA propaganda. Times change, culture shifts, values are relative.
I'm not suggesting that horse diddling is the hot new thing in alternative lifestyles and neither is Zoo. The picture's sympathy is rooted in a belief that all human experience is of interest, no matter how extreme or transgressive. The image of the zoophilia psyche that floats to the surface is oblique and bruised yet weirdly tender. Zoophiles may be into grim kicks, but they're not without a sense of humor. Each is marked by a profound alienation from his fellow man even as he finds camaraderie among the others. Like Police Beat before it, Zoo is a movie about outsiders told from within.