Eo (2022) April 10th, 2023
I expected Eo to be a beautifully shot sappy story of a donkey suffering through a life as a service animal. Less like a seeing eye dog and more like a Budweiser clydesdale, an animal used for physical labor. My expectations were satisfied for the first 45 minutes. Eo, the titular donkey, is a circus performer with a special connection to his human performing partner. They love each other as most humans and their cherished animal friends do. The screen time of their partnership is short-lived as the circus goes bankrupt early in the film.
Eo is separated from his friend and shuffles around the countryside moving from job to job, unable to find a place to settle down. This is the best section of the film. Each job creates a small vignette exploring aspects of life as a working animal. Eo pulls a cart in a fox fur farm and witnesses the small canids murdered, their corpses tossed unceremoniously on a cart. In a rage the honorable donkey kicks the furrier in the head and suddenly we cut to Eo at a new job.
Eo witnesses a beautiful white horse in a magazine photoshoot and we see the disparity between how classically beautiful animals are treated better than those we find plain and homely like Eo. Eo seems to feel that difference too. In one scene while traveling to a new job, Eo can see wild horses running through a field from the slots in his carriage. Suddenly the camera shifts to a slow motion POV shot running with the horses, as if Eo is dreaming of the beauty and freedom the horses represent.
Eo dreams many times during the film. I think you can tell he’s dreaming when the shots are bathed in an oversaturated red light. These beautifully interpretive scenes symbolize the core aspect of Eo, getting into the mind of an animal that’s barely making sense of the world humans have trapped it in. Eventually Eo finds his way to a farm full of donkeys. Special needs children come to play with the donkeys and it seems idyllic for a refugee like Eo.
His peace is interrupted by a surprise visit from his human partner from the circus. She’s missed him terribly and finds him just in time to celebrate his birthday with a carrot muffin. Her impatient boyfriend encourages her to leave but she insists on staying with Eo. This is where the movie goes downhill. Her boyfriend drives off on his moped into the night. She nuzzles Eo for a brief moment, and walks toward her man. The lonely donkey, yearning to break free, kicks down the fence before him and trots out to the street chasing after his human. She’s long gone and he’ll only ever see her again in his dreams.
More vignette sequences follow Eo’s escape but their poignancy shifts dramatically towards perfunctory melodramatic schlock. Eo finds himself in a livestock truck headed to a processing plant to become salami. Luckily for Eo the driver’s proposition of a woman he believes to be a prostitute ends with his throat is slit by a man wearing an all black body suit. It is suggested these two are members of a radical animal rights group like those seen earlier in the film protesting the circus where Eo was happiest. Perhaps a criticism of man’s best laid plans. Perhaps more harm than good is done in their attempt to liberate animals perceived as tortured or enslaved.
Eo is then rescued by a man who looks like a caricature of a young frenchman. Smoking and unshaven he wanders around highways at night looking for donkeys to chat up. He speaks to Eo as if they’re old friends and decides to take the donkey home with him. Home is a chateau where Eo can eat freely of the lawn and live in peace. A movie that feels like the Black Beauty for donkeys is finally coming to a close, but what of that pesky Homeward Bound subplot? How will Eo make it back to his human?
Inside the chateau the young frenchman has a confrontation with his stepmother. She informs him his free ride is over, they’re selling the chateau and he’ll have to find a way to support himself. She smashes dishes on the floor in an angry attempt to get his attention. He stops her, they stare at each other in French, and kiss passionately.
Cut to outside, Eo is dreaming of his human partner. Reminded of his quest to reunite with her Eo stares longingly at the road beyond out the chateau’s boundaries. I could’ve looked away at this point… I could’ve missed a significant transition scene… but the next thing I remember seeing is Eo walking down a fenced entrenched amongst a massive heard of cattle. A human from behind prods him along the path with the other livestock, the real-life donkey actor shuttled down this path, tail firmly between its legs. The people with the cattle prods push the animals into a large industrial structure. It is dark inside, Eo cannot see what’s happening beyond the threshold of this building and neither can we. Suddenly the screen goes dark. We hear the fatal sound of a bolt gun, and imagine the thud of a donkey body hitting the floor.
Then a note appears on screen reading “This film was made out of our love for animals and nature. the animals’ wellbeing on set was always our first priority, and no animals were harmed in the making of this film.”
I didn’t get what I wanted out of Eo. The potential for a coherent morality tale was squandered early on, sacrificed for the shock value of thoughtlessly killing our protagonist. I would be completely open to a heart-wrenching story about how meat is murder but Eo‘s creative team didn’t take the time to manifest that reality.
Eo isn’t a heartwarming children’s story about finding your way home. There’s no moral about appreciating creatures who don’t meet our culture’s beauty standards, or even simply about being nice to animals because in the end most of them are people too. They have feelings, thoughts, and dreams just like us and we owe it to them to be decent.
Unless they’re yummy.
Eo is one of the worst kind of movies. The kind that unceremoniously fails to do anything meaningful but with the cachet of one that does. I’ll never watch Eo again and I don’t feel bad about spoiling it. I tend to save this kind of review for movies as offensively wasteful as Thor: Love and Thunder, but sincerely fuck Eo.
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