Being a nerd, it stands to reason that I like the exotic pets. Yes, me and Chris had a Savannah Monitor and an iguana, respectively, some years back but had to sell them when we moved out to California. The trip was too hard in the winter. Of course, Savannah monitors aren’t illegal, at least they weren’t at the time. People with exotic pets are often looked at as a kind of “fringe” people. But we weren’t all weird about it. We weren’t those guys that wear black buttoned up shirts, with perpetually pursed lips that wouldn’t look anyone in the eye because we felt only reptiles could relate to us. And we weren’t those beer-swilling rednecks that let our 6 year old kids play with snakes we found in the back yard before we either shot them, ate them, or beat them with a big stick. No, we did the research, considered our decisions, and made sure we were as responsible reptile owners as we could be. Hence why we sold them. It was in their best interest that we didn’t drive all the way across the country with them in the dead of January.
But not all people that own exotic animals are responsible, do any research, or have the benefit of intelligence or sanity. And lizards aren’t the only exotic pets that people own. We’re talking about lions, tigers, bears (oh my!), pythons, alligators, vipers, cobras, chimps, and yes, even elephants. Who the Hell has room for an elephant? Rich eccentrics living in some loopy dream world, I suppose. Maybe Justin Bieber sleeps cradled in the tusks of an elephant? Either of those Fanning girls? Maybe not.
This documentary, The Elephant in the Living Room, is about the kind of people that own dangerous exotic animals as household pets. It follows the story of two men deeply rooted in this issue. One is Tim Harrison, an Ohio Police officer whose friend was killed by an exotic pet, and the other is Terry Brumfield, a big-hearted man that struggles to keep possession of two pet African lions that he loves like family.
This film is at once funny, appalling, infuriating, terribly sad, and somewhat uplifting. There are at least two sides to this issue and this film will certainly polarize people with any opinion at all. There’s a bit of exposition to show us these two men and their situations, as well as quite a bit of interesting statistical information about exotic pets, how to get them, and all the dangers of owning them. Remember that story a few eyars ago about the woman who owned that chimp for 15 years and one day her friend shows up and it tries to rip her face off? Yeah, that story is here. “Gee, I don’t understand why Travis attacked her like that.” Yeah, how about because HE’S A FUCKING WILD ANIMAL! Why do common sense things escape people? Why isn’t common sense more COMMON?
There are some amazing and surprising statistics offered in this film. For instance, there are more tigers as pets in private homes here in the U.S. than there are in the wild in India. WHAT. And as it turns out, most states in this country have NO laws about owning such animals. Then of course there are all the exotics that escape from homes or are just released by people that can’t care for them anymore. As law enforcement, it is Tim Harrison’s job to respond to these many calls from people that have spotted giant pythons and mountain lions that are just wandering around neighborhoods looking to eat your children and friends. Yikes.
But at the same time, we are introduced to these people that own alligators, mountain lions, or poisonous cobras. And some of them seem like intelligent people that know what they’re doing. The pro side of owning exotics is also represented here, so don’t get the idea that this doc is out to compeletely bash these pet owners. The story of Terry Brumfield is a heart-breaking, albeit odd, one. After experiencing a painful back injury that left him wondering if he could live that way, a friend asked him to take care of two lion cubs for a couple days. Those couple days tuned into three years and Terry atributes his renewed desire to live to these lions. They gave him a reason to keep going. It’s a sweet, yet strange kind of bond they form. You can almost sympathize with him, as many of us have had pets that we love. But tragedy comes, inevitably or not. But it comes in WAYS we might not expect.
The Elephant in the Living Room is a fascinating, emotional and enlightening documentary. I think you should all go see it. It’s totally a four kittenhand film.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, thinks having a wild animal for a pet is great, until it eats your face.