Film Review: EO
Anyone still suffering nightmares because of a childhood viewing of Bambi may wish to prepare themselves for EO, veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski’s tale of a donkey who experiences humanity at its kindest and cruelest while wandering Europe.
We initially find EO the donkey as part of a circus act, doted upon by his trainer Magda (Sandra Drzymalska). When the circus is forced to give up its animals on grounds of cruelty, EO and Magda are separated. After a drunken Magda sets him free from a petting zoo in the middle of the night, EO is left wandering aimlessly through forests and towns, getting into encounters that veer from the comic (disrupting a soccer match) to the cruel (fans of the losing team setting upon him with weapons).
Skolimowski appears to take cues from children’s cinema, particularly early Disney. At times EO veers into the realm of magical realism. It’s in the concrete realm of man that the film reminds us of our capacity for inhumanity as EO is beaten, sold, and kept captive.
Skolimowski doesn’t offer any easy answers regarding our relationship with animals, but he does pose a central question regarding whether any human interference with nature can have a positive outcome. Ironically, EO’s troubles are often the result of well-meaning actions: He’s separated from his caretaker by animal rights protestors, while it’s that caretaker who unintentionally leads him from the safety of the petting zoo.
The film is careful not to anthropomorphize its animal protagonist. While he may have adorably expressive features, EO has a notable lack of advanced intelligence, wandering aimlessly in search of his next meal. We shouldn’t have to see ourselves in a creature to respect it, but in EO’s eyes, we glimpse a vision of humanity, one that’s not always complimentary to our species.