Published Apr 24, 2013Regardless of your position on whether or not being omnivorous is morally defensible, the ethical treatment of animals is a subject that needs to be kept in the light. With the fur industry and experimental testing as the primary targets in her crosshairs, filmmaker Liz Marshall skirts the nourishment issue (which means no argument about the sentience of carrots) and takes on a concern with much wider public support.
If you have empathy for non-human beings, the first-hand images she captures of factory farming practices are more horrific than any fiction we can concoct. Ostensibly, The Ghosts in Our Machine is about depicting qualities in animals that mirror recognizable human behaviours and emotions so that religious sociopaths with entitlement issues will believe that other sentient life forms have "souls."
To an extent, this is true; Marshall fills a lot of screen time with the myriad expressions and behavioural ticks of animals that are easily identifiable signifiers of personality. But what the movie is really about is photographer Jo-Anne McArthur and her mission to "save the world."
She's a talented photographer with an artistic eye that sneaks into the hidden holding areas of labs and factory farms around the globe to snap shots, hoping to deal some damage to exploitative industries by selling her well-documented stories to major news publications. Marshall gets a little too caught up in telling a story that positions McArthur as a vigilante hero with a camera, giving her struggle to be published as much weight as the thesis of her picture. Yes, it takes guts to risk your own safety for a cause but it smacks of egotism to put boosting a person's profile ahead of the agenda.
Being conscious of how much more effective an image is than words at provoking a response from the populace, it could be a calculated decision to make McArthur a face of the movement, knowing that most people will pay more mind to something they'd theoretically like to breed with than to depictions of adorable creatures suffering.
Stimulating conversation isn't part of the equation at all and the inclusion of audio quotes from Temple Grandin and other animal science academics only adds cursory information to the topic. There's no discussion of how morality is relative to survival needs (try telling the Inuit to go vegan) or how it might be possible to love and respect something and still be fine with it dying.
Marshall and McArthur have their hearts in an admirable place of compassion but their heads are in the clouds, which limits the potential of this project to significantly impact a gargantuan system of injustice. (Ghosts Media/Films Transit International)