NOTE: I did not include graphic visual content on purpose for this review.
Just last night, actually, I got a chance to watch Earthlings right before I went to sleep. Something prompted me to–I don’t exactly know what it was, but it just felt like the right time. For the longest time I really wanted to watch this documentary but I was so scared to watch the truth behind the way certain industries treat our animals, including the ones we eat. Whatever it was, I intuitively knew that it was time I watched the movie, and so I did. I was very hesitant on writing a review for this film because it is quite controversial. Vegans and vegetarians glorify this documentary for the obvious reason of exposing animal cruelty, while speciesists debunk the claims of humankind being the only species that inflict pain on other species. It was just something I didn’t want to be involved in, but I think that this documentary is so underrepresented that I have to share it and my take on it. I do hope that even if you don’t want to watch the film, at least try to look into its motives.
The overall structure of Earthlings is divided into sequences: Pets, Food, Clothing, Entertainment, and Science. The film’s main purpose is to execute the unethical ways humans treat other animals. Basically, it not only sheds a very negative light on our programmed speciesism and hypocrisy, but also exposes the truthful and tough-to-watch footage of the brutality in certain animal facilities such as meat slaughterhouses, circuses, stray shelters, bullfighting, leather producers, fishing companies, etc. These procedures are also compared to our history’s tragedies of inequality, such as slavery, lynching and suffrage. The moral comes down to pain and suffering: all living organisms, whether a human, a cow or a dog, we all feel the same sensations. We all seek survival and feel emotion along the way.
Pets reveals the ways stray pet facilities, pet shops, breeders, even shelters, actually treat their pets very unkindly by locking them up in cages, confining them, abusing them and even resorting to euthanasia and slaughtering because they cannot afford to raise those animals. Seeing the ways pets were harassed broke my heart, especially because my own dog was raised by a breeder. That being said, you shouldn’t feel ashamed if your pet was not rescued from a humane shelter or breeder because you saved it from what was possibly a very harmful life, both physically and psychologically. It is more so about how you will treat your new pet after adopting it. This section of the film really helped me learn to be grateful of my dog and value her presence–I’ll admit that sometimes I do get annoyed with her climbing all over the place, but she is here with me in a very happy home.
The second part, titled Food, is pretty self-explanatory: slaughterhouses. This is probably one of the most graphic, bloodiest and intense sections of the whole film, because these animals are what gets put on the plate, and I actually cried quite a bit during this sequence. I already knew that factory farming is a form of mass production, and mass production requires cheap procedures, meaning that the majority of all animals in the slaughterhouses that are killed for food die in unjust and dirty ways. Each animal–cow, pig, poultry, veal, seafood–is broken down one by one, one bloody beaten corpse at a time. I couldn’t bear to listen to the farmers’ crude remarks that found pleasure in torturing these animals and then torturing them even more when those animals would fuss around in fear. These animals are locked up, separated from their parents, diseased from hormones and poor living conditions, burned, clipped and beaten, so of course they will always live in fear! This part really highlighted the psychology behind these animals’ conditions–their stress hormones are always activated because of their environmental stimuli. Being raised in such torturous manners without family, love and compassion puts them in a very difficult position. Those animals have no choice but to submit, because that is all they have been taught.
Clothing is a widely known element of animal cruelty: leather, fur, snakeskin, feathers, mink scarves, wool, you name it. Some people would argue that using animals for aesthetics is actually even worse than meat, because eating animals is a part of our primal survival, whereas clothing, makeup and furniture are completely superficial, but it’s all about perspective. I’ve personally been quite careless about where my clothing comes from, because I hadn’t been vegan while watching this film. Even know I’m shifting to a plant based lifestyle rather than a vegan one, I will definitely make an effort to reduce my possessions of animal-based clothing–because I do currently use a face wash that tests on animals, I will look for a vegan face wash very soon. Maybe coconut oil only! 🙂
As for Entertainment, this was definitely the section I resonated with the most. Growing up, I was never a huge fan of zoos, animal shows, carnivals, and NEVER rodeos, races and bullfighting–the exception was one or two trips to Seaworld while in elementary school, but of course, I was completely blind to the Orca whale treatment. This section definitely made me very, very ashamed of these industries. An elephant training facility claimed to only use positive reinforcement on his animals, but was caught with workers whipping and striking the elephants. I felt bad while recalling times I would go horseback riding at birthday parties or pumpkin patch fairs on live merry-go-rounds with real mares, and I used to take equestrian lessons in which my instructor made me use a crop on my horses, which may have been solely for discipline but nevertheless was infliction of pain.
Lastly is Scientific Research. As someone who wants to major in Food Science and someone who loves Psychology and biological research, I have to say that this was the hardest part for me to watch personally, because I would have to put up with such an unethical element of a field I want to work in. However, the other reason why this was the most difficult sequence to watch is because I am also torn about the ethics behind animal testing. Drugs that could cure human diseases cannot be tested on plants or fish, because obviously, their anatomical compositions are so much different from ours, leaving us to test on monkeys, apes, rabbits, cats, mice, etc. Animal research has its rules, but plenty of animal suffering goes on. But should animals be the first subjects to test new drugs for humans, or should actual humans? If we were to eliminate animal testing, who would we test on? Prisoners? The sick? The mentally ill? The elderly? Think about it.
This documentary is known to have converted many of their viewers to veganism or vegetarianism. However, the movie never explicitly states that you have to be vegan or vegetarian to be considered to making a difference. Yes, the message is strongly geared towards avoiding suffering completely, but the narration never states that veganism is the way to go. Here’s a good question you may want to know: did Earthlings make me vegan? The answer is……..sort of. I am currently going to go strictly plant based (and to be quite honest, it’s okay if I have a piece of egg/meat/dairy once in a while, because it won’t be worth it to break down and get into a fight with my family and peers) while minimizing the amount of animal byproducts I use as much as possible; I will be vegan at home when eating, vegetarian if I have to when dining out. Yes, I could be considered vegan, but I won’t necessarily consciously seek every single part of my life to be vegan, because it’s impossible. Plastic bags in grocery stores aren’t vegan. Computers aren’t vegan. iPhones aren’t either.
The reason why I think this film is so important is because it shows that all animals are alike. Speciesism was claimed by humankind and probably created by humankind. So was racism and sexism. Honestly though, it’s okay if you don’t become vegan after this film. That’s not what I think is the purpose of the film. What the film wanted to do was to create awareness and to spread a common message. Everyone should watch this film at least once in their lifetime just to get a glimpse of how cruel people can be, and to learn from them. This is not what humanity is about.
You can watch the movie on YouTube (simply search Earthlings), or go to its site linked down below.