The bats used in major league baseball games on Mother’s Day. What every mother wants, I guess. And some guys, too, according to ZOO, the documentary about a Boeing engineer who died in 2005 after having sex with a horse.
[WARNING: DON’T READ THIS IF HORSE SEX OFFENDS YOU.]
Program Director Brian and I went to see ZOO last week. It was kind of an odd movie, as the director, Robinson Devor, decided to experiment with the documentary form. That’s usually a euphemism for “the director didn’t know what the hell he was doing,” but in this case I’m not sure whether he did or not. Maybe he meant for it to be like that. For the soundtrack, Devor used audio interviews with a few of the men who were involved in the same zoophilia group as the dead man and with Jenny Edwards of Hope for Horses, who “rescued” the horses involved in the incident. The visuals were all “reenactments,” mostly by human actors and horse actors. Most of the male actors were gingery haired and middle-aged and had facial hair, and were very hard for me to tell apart. The horses were easier, since a grey Arabian stallion portrayed the “Before” horse, and a horse of another breed entirely was the “After.” The name of the man who died is never mentioned in the film, where he’s referred to only as “Mr. Hands,” his Internet pseudonym, although I found his name—along with a naked photo of him—in less than two minutes on line. In fact, most of what I know about this case comes from a little online search I did in order to write this review.
The film itself was not very informative, about either the actual incident or zoophilia in general. Another odd thing about ZOO is that they never used the horse’s real name either, although I found that out, too. There are many lovely shots in ZOO, I guess in an attempt to contrast the natural beauty of Enumclaw, Washington, with the ugly behavior of the zoophiles. Or maybe it’s supposed to emphasize the underlying naturalness of their behavior—it’s not really clear. Mr. Hands is treated fairly sympathetically, although some of the film’s implications about him—where he lived, which horses and how many horses he owned, etc.—are misleading at best. It’s very confusing sometimes, such as towards the end of a particularly nice scene in which Mr. Hands is writing a check for child support. The phone rings, he answers, and a woman’s voice says, “We’re here.” Meanwhile, the soundtrack has part of an interview in which one of the men is explaining how the group was contacted by other zoo’s (as they call themselves) and how they decided which ones to invite out to their horse-sex parties. I was interested in the idea that women might be involved, too, and then disappointed that she was never mentioned again. It wasn’t until I started writing this that I realized the woman on the phone was supposed to be Mr. Hands’ ex-wife, calling to let him know that she and their son had just arrived in Seattle for a visit.
How would you like to be the son of the guy who died after having sex with a horse? It’s funny how many guys, when I tell them about ZOO, assume that Mr. Hands was the active party and died when the horse rolled over on him post-coitus. But Mr. Hands’ death certificate clearly says that he died from peritonitis due to the rupture of his sigmoid colon after having sexual intercourse with a horse. According to my online research, Mr. Hands was well known among the zoo community for his expert abilities in receiving stallions, so I guess it was a surprise for everyone when he was hurt so badly. When ZOO isn’t being vague, confusing, or evocative, it’s sometimes too literal. One of the men mentions a “bucket of CDs” they had of their home-made horse-sex videos. I pictured one of those little square plastic tubs with jewel-boxed discs in it, but in the movie there’s an actual water bucket full of loose CDs. I just didn’t believe those guys would be so careless with their porn.
There’s also a long section in the middle where the entire film stops dead while the actor who plays a cop sits on a stool and tells a story about how he saw someone die once. The director lets this guy blather on for quite a while before he even gets to the story, and when he finally gets there it reminded me of some very earnest high-school play about drunk driving, trying to convince everyone that death is, you know, really, really serious. And it has nothing to do with Mr. Hands, or the incident, or zoophilia.
The zoophiles interviewed for the film are at some pains to make the argument that what they do is … well, not normal, exactly, but maybe natural. They make a point of how well they cared for their horses, and the horse-rescue lady agrees that the horses were not abused. One of the group mentions his real affection for the beasts. But another man—or maybe the same one on a different day—says that the best thing about having sex with horses is that you don’t have to interact with them. For instance, you don’t have to discuss the latest Madonna album with a horse. Program Director Brian tried so hard not to laugh out loud at that. He snorted and shook and turned purple for about five minutes, and I was afraid he might be having a stroke. But that was unintentional humor, and the rest of ZOO was very, very somber. Whether it was a random shot of the men picking apples together in the twilight or an extended scene of a grey horse being gelded, the overall mood was elegiac.
I can’t help but compare ZOO to Chicken Hawk, Adi Sideman’s 1994 documentary about pedophiles. There’s a chilling scene in that film where a convicted pedophile is hanging around a convenience store in a semi-rural area and some kids ride up on their bicycles. The man grins at one little boy and asks him weird questions about bike riding. The kid is puzzled, polite, a little creeped out, and obviously curious about the camera. He breaks off the conversation as soon as possible and rides off with his friends, and the pedophile turns to the camera and exalts, “Did you see that?! Did you see how flirtatious he was?” All you can see is how far this creepy old guy’s inner world has diverged from reality. If Robinson Devor had delivered even one moment with that kind of power, ZOO would have been a really worthwhile film. But he didn’t.