Animal Cruelty in Films: How Far is too Far?

Quite a lot of films contain animal abuse, probably more than we’d like to believe, and I’ve always wondered how far filmmakers will go for entertainment, and how much we as an audience will accept purely so we can be entertained.
From The Hangover in which a capuchin monkey became addicted to smoking thanks to a scene that involved the monkey being given a real, lit cigarette to Cannibal Holocaust that contains a hell of a lot of animals, from monkeys to snakes, being killed; lots of films from all different countries do it.
I’ve not seen Apocalypse Now but I stumbled across this clip of a real water buffalo being killed which is largely what made me decide to write this post:

Yes that's a real pig and yes they're about to actually kill it
Yes that’s a real pig and yes they’re about to actually kill it

In my opinion, regardless of whether this kind of slaughter happens in real life, which it does in some countries, it doesn’t make it acceptable for a filmmaker to re-enact it. Animals are slaughtered for various reasons by certain cultures, it happens, but to take one of those animals to a film set and represent a ritual sacrifice is not the same.
Arguably this is another case of what media theorist Jean Baudrillard describes as audiences losing the ability to decipher between reality and representation; people have it in their heads that because these animals get slaughtered in real life, that makes it OK to construct a representation and slaughter them for entertainment. It’s highly doubtful that Coppola (who directed Apocalypse Now) had any kind of religious reason for slaughtering an animal, such as the tribes that do it in real life have, so therefore he was simply using it for entertainment…so the entire thing is not ‘OK’ because there’s no reason for the sacrifice. I mean, granted I don’t agree with ritual sacrifice but at least these cultures have some kind of religious reason for it.

Cannibal Holocaust was banned in many countries due to censorship issues largely relating to the animal cruelty in the film. About this, the director says “I was stupid to introduce animals.” You can say that again! Of the seven animals killed for the sake of the film six were seen on screen. The scene where a Squirrel Monkey’s head was chopped off had to be shot twice, which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of two monkeys. Also killed for the sake of the film was a pig, kicked twice and then shot in the head at ch-04close range, a snake, a large spider, a turtle and a coatimundi.

Cannibal Holocaust has come under fire for being an exploitation film, the animal cruelty being the obvious outrage. However film historian Andrew DeVos has argued that there are double standards concerning animal cruelty in film, and while Cannibal Holocaust has been condemned for animal killings, many other films that contain animal mutilation are considered by critics to be classic ‘art films’. The fact that there’s even an argument amazes me, the fact that it happens at all amazes me even more!

Apocalypse Now was one of three films mentioned as being highly regarded by critics despite the slaughter of a water buffalo, the other two films were Rules of the Game and El Topo. 

Rules of the Game has scenes of rabbits and pheasants being shot, which brings me back to the point that just because this happens in real life it doesn’t make it OK to re-enact it for film. Hunters shoot rabbits and pheasants, and they are then used for food, doubtless the corpses of the animals were left to go to waste in the making of Rules of the Game, because it was purely for entertainment and had no other purpose. Rules of the Game was in fact banned soon after its release.

5199959044_a643930880In the film El Topo, a large number of rabbits were killed to shoot a scene and it has been rumoured that the director broke all these rabbits necks by hand himself.

There are lots of examples of films that contain real animal cruelty for the sake of entertainment (I had a look at this list for research, it’s quite interesting In a time when the possibilities of make up and special effects are almost endless, I don’t understand the need for this kind of torture. Just because animals get killed in real life for food or for ritual slaughter, it doesn’t mean it’s acceptable to represent it in film because it’s not reality. In reality the animals aren’t put on a film set surrounded by cameras and lights before they’re killed, and personally I don’t think there’s anything ‘right’ about killing for entertainment.

It’s all down to morals and ethics, and ultimately opinion; I suppose there is no right or wrong answer. Unfortunately there aren’t as many laws to prevent such animal cruelty for entertainment as there are to protect people, so there will always be loop holes. I just don’t think it’s ever acceptable to construct animal cruelty for the sake of ‘art’.


6 thoughts on “Animal Cruelty in Films: How Far is too Far?

    1. 100% agree. I think some people just like to push boundaries because they can. In the case of a lot of things the makers don’t even care if it gets banned so long as people are talking about it!


  1. I am remain somewhere in the middle on this argument. For example, in Cannibal Holocaust, whilst animals were indeed slaughtered on the screen, yes, the animals were also common food sources for the tribes that participated in the film so, as I understand it, they were all eaten and consumed as they would have been with or without a camera present for the slaughter itself. Cannibal Holocaust paradoxically tackles sensationalism in the media and its extremity is part of its purpose; how far is too far and, as infamously said in the film, “who are the real cannibals?” Nevertheless, I can appreciate your stance against animal cruelty on film and in today’s day and age it is certainly a rarity – after all, the films you mentioned were all released no later than 1980 (with The Hangover being the exception, a movie I’ve never seen).


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