EO review: a donkey’s journey

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In EO, an innocent donkey undergoes a long journey where he discovers a lot about humanity – here’s our review.

There are very few films I’ve seen that have made me want climate change to hurry up and wipe out the human race, but I can say with certainty that EO is one of them. Many people already love and feel a lot of empathy towards animals, but even if you’re not an animal lover, director Jerzy Skolimowski imbues his donkey protagonist with so much emotion that it’s impossible not to feel every up and down of his journey with him.

When EO is taken away from a travelling circus, he’s sold to a farm. Missing his former owner, he escapes and goes on an adventure that sees him encounter all kinds of people, both good and bad. It’s the latter that dominate the film, though, making it an often painful-to-watch critique of human society and its effect on animals and wildlife.

Through the eyes of EO human behaviour seems absurd at best, terrifying at worst. He bears witness to silly political ceremonies and the strangeness (and dangers) of football fanaticism. Often we see this from his point of view, and it smartly conveys how scary people can seem to an innocent animal. At other times Skolimowksi conveys EO’s emotions through steady close-ups, and it’s surprising how much feeling and personality you can see in his eyes.

EO’s greatest strength is the way in which it evokes so much emotion while you’re watching – you’re angry with the people who would seek to abuse EO, but it uses well-chosen shots to also convey the idea that even well-meaning people who treat their kept animals kindly are limiting their freedom. Occasionally these points are made heavy-handedly – some shots are coloured bright red for effect, and the musical cues can sometimes be over-dramatic – but the unflinching way the movie depicts our effect on wildlife is also very impactful.

A man sits next to the donkey, EO, in EO (directed by Jerzy Skolimowski).

As the film is seeking to make a point about the role of animals in our society, it makes the smart choice of making the human roles small. Most of them are played by actors who aren’t well known internationally and their parts in EO’s journey are fleeting. Therefore it’s incredibly jarring when Isabelle Huppert makes an appearance at the end, in a typically memorable turn that feels like it’s been ripped from an entirely different movie. It takes the focus away from EO, which feels like a mistake given how strongly you feel about him by that point in the film.

EO is one of those films that will leave you truly emotionally drained from how much you’ve felt for the protagonist while watching. It makes an excellent point about the dark side of humanity and advocates for animals that can’t speak for themselves.

However, it’s hard not to see the hypocrisy in it. It ends on a disclaimer reasserting the filmmaker’s love for animals and stating that none had been harmed making the film. It often seems that EO is condemning people for using animals – but haven’t the crew done exactly that in making this film?

No matter how impactful the movie is, that’s a thought that lingers.

EO is in cinemas now.

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