Known as the “horse-fucking movie,” Robinson Devor‘s lyrical nonfiction portrait “Zoo” is, on the contrary, one of the most beautiful films of the year, let alone at Sundance. Without a hint of sensationalism or condemnation, the movie explores the true story of a Boeing engineer who died in 2005 from a ruptured colon after being mounted by a Stallion. The “Enumclaw Horse Sex Incident,” as it was known, shocked residents and news commentators, and resulted in many a joke around the water cooler. But Devor steps back from the headlines to create a dreamy contemplation of man, nature and morality.
“Zoo” opens with an image of a light glowing in the distance; as the camera travels towards the light, it grows larger, pulling the viewer into a tunnel. The shot could represent many things (it is, in fact, a coal mine). But it’s also a conduit into the strange, hypnotic world of the film.
The story of Kenneth Pinyan and the “zoophile” community to which he belonged is told through exquisitely composed reenactments. Devor first introduces us to a man who goes by the name “Coyote”- one of the few “zoos” to appear on camera as himself. He explains his background and beliefs, the way the Internet exposed him to a people and way of life beyond his small-town upbringings. “Before I even defined myself as zoo,” he explains in voice over, “I was someone who felt a closer affinity to non-humans.”
Almost no one speaks to the camera in traditional documentary fashion. Rather, Devor accompanies gorgeous images of Northwest landscapes and the farms of Emunclaw with voice-overs mostly from actors, who speak the words of the men involved in the incident. They describe their relationships with the horses: “You are connecting with another being,” says one man, who emphases the “wonderful” feeling of “the simple, unplanned world” of the animals. They hold parties at a farm, making mixed drinks in a blender, and then, in the dead of a dazzling indigo night, as a magical “Days of Heaven“-like score unfolds on the soundtrack, they head out to the stables–everything seems innocent enough.
Of course, it’s not so innocent. And when Devor finally reveals rough archival video footage of a Stallion screwing a man, the glimpses are shocking, and they don’t look painless or wonderful, at all; it actually looks pretty brutal.
But however disturbing, “Zoo’s” sympathies remain with the zoophiles. By creating such a ravishingly beautiful film, by contrasting the stunning images of nature against the cool environs of civilization (a scene in which a horse is castrated seems far more cruel to the animal than a one-night-stand), Devor makes a persuasive, provocative and deeply profound case for tolerance and understanding in the face of the seemingly most incomprehensible of acts.
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