A Bold Plunge into Consciousness
EO is one of those rare movies where, not knowing exactly how, the film transports you into a different world. In the end, you never knew you would have so much empathy for a donkey while exploring the meaning of consciousness. (4.5*)
EO received a single nomination for International Feature Film, putting it on our “special interest” list. (All Quiet on the Western Front from Germany won the Oscar).
Acting, though, is not listed in these references.
And, besides not finding much overlap, there is a reason for that. The human performances, aside from maybe one, are simply not all that relevant, except as counterpoints. The story is, ostensibly about a donkey and the story is told with EO, the donkey, as the focal point. Even a brief appearance by French actress Isabelle Huppert, although somewhat intriguing, is not part of the central thread of the film.
EO is, on the surface, about a donkey and his life. We follow him from one “job” to another, getting into more and more trouble, just because he has the persistence to not die! He never speaks – this isn’t a Disney film – and we aren’t even given dialog that he might be thinking. Instead, Director Jerzy Skolimowski and his cinematographer Michel Dymek give us time to peer deeply into his eyes as he scans the world outside of his pen. Or we watch his big ears twist and turn as he listens to his difficult world. We are asked to see the world as EO sees and hears it, not as humans experience it.
It is, in many ways, simpler and in others much more difficult. He has less control over what happens to him than most humans and, when he does do things humans don’t like, he suffers. But there is no suggestion that EO’s experience of moral consciousness is any less important than that of his human handlers.
But that’s not the full extent of what this seasoned filmmaker is trying to communicate. He is also saying something about the nature of consciousness itself and how humans don’t really have a monopoly on either consciousness or our understanding of what it might be. There is a very curious two minutes around the 48-minute mark involving a robot dog.
The robot and EO never meet. The robot sequence is entirely an aside. But in that sequence, we see the bot explore its surroundings (curiosity?), hesitate before proceeding in some instances (thinking?), reacting to his own self-image in a pool of water (recognition of self?), toppling over onto its back after encountering an obstacle, righting itself, and proceeding (recovery from a setback and determination?). Although the entire sequence has nothing to do from a plot perspective with the rest of the film, it has everything to do with the primary focus of the movie – consciousness!
EO also used multiple visual techniques to challenge the viewer. It probably needs to be considered something of an art-house film. Skolimowski and Dymek repeatedly use primary color filters (blue, yellow, and especially red) to tell parts of the story and communicate potential feelings EO might be having. (I don’t think I figured out exactly how each of them relates to specific emotional feelings, but red is definitely associated with passion of different kinds, blue seems to reflect coldness and sadness, and yellow may be times of uncertainty.)
These emotional cues are also enhanced by the musical score. They also make extensive use of drones in often beautiful ways.
EO is the kind of movie where you simply sit there, somewhat stunned for its duration trying to figure out how it is having such an impact on you. The filmmakers successfully take you inside EO’s soul in ways you don’t anticipate.
The techniques are both subtle and outrageous. I suspect most people will either love this film for the depth of feeling or hate it for making you feel that way. I, for one, loved it. (4.5*)
(Note: this movie is not at all appropriate for kids!)