Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Rust and Bone" Animal Protest

Hi all,

So yesterday I came across this in relation to Rust and Bone, the film:

ADI Press Release

If you're not keen on reading it all and just want a summation: Animal Defenders International, an animal-rights group, is calling for a boycott of the film. Why? Because orcas are shown performing in captivity.

My reaction to this is mixed. As I've said on this blog and elsewhere, I worked at a marine mammal park. I saw some things. I wasn't particularly impressed with how things were administrated all the time. In fact, I'm working on a magazine piece on this very subject. In my view, there are some nuances to the whole debate — nuances that groups like ADI or sensationalistic newspaper headline writers don't really look at, which is totally fine, as that's not really their purpose for existence.

I don't have a problem with animal rights (shocking!). In fact, I heartily support those organizations at least insofar as their general objectives are concerned. Really and truly, I think there's a lot of animal mistreatment out there. It's pretty sickening.

When I was going to school in Iowa, I used to go out from time to time with friends and come back pretty late, 2am or whatever, drunk, and switch on the TV. At that time of the night PETA bought ad time and showed animal cruelty videos. Y'know, the insides of labs where animals were being tested, poultry processing plants, fishing trawlers. Some overseas footage of fur farms. It was almost always that breed of shakycam, Blair-Witch, nausea-inducing footage, all grainy and covert.

It was distressing. This is coming from a guy who's written some pretty raw stuff and made a point of hunting out just about every underground grossout film under the sun at one point in my teenaged life. But those videos, man ...

There was one where this guy at a poultry plant was slinging live chickens up onto a conveyor belt by their feet; they'd travel along the belt, suspended upside-down, until their necks came to this metal "V" — their legs and bodies kept going, their heads didn't. What bothered me was that the "V" wasn't even sharpened, so it wasn't like their heads were being cut off. They were being TORN off. You think to yourself: Jesus, how much extra effort would it take to sharpen that thing?

Then again, I ate a chicken salad today. Just, like, ten minutes ago. I'm not saying that to be cavalier or ironic or whatever; I'm just being honest and saying that's what ADI faces. People see horrific things and in many cases just blithely carry on with our lives.

Then another one. A Japanese shark-trawling vessel. They were dragging these sharks onboard. Lemontails, whitetips, whatever. I don't really know from sharks. They terrify me, really. Blame Jaws. But these guys were dragging them onboard, hacking off all their fins and pushing them back into the water. Like to hack a man's arms and legs off and hurl him off a locomotive. Those knives were so sharp and the workers wielded them so skillfully; they sliced those sharks down to nothing, down to thrashing tubes I guess, in thirty seconds or so. There's this shot of a shark sinking through the water to the bottom of the sea, flinging its body side-to-side as ribbons of blood pour from every spot it's been sliced apart. The camera lingers on the shark on the bottom of the sea. Black eyes. A doll's eyes, as Quint says. One thing I realized: sharks don't blink. They never ever blink.

And if I lived in Thailand or China, I may still eat shark-fin soup. I don't know. It's an awful attitude, surely, to just continue along your same course after seeing such things. It's the kind of attitude ADI is railing and rallying against.

Then ... well, then there's this one video. I'm going to link to it. I doubt you'll watch it. I can't watch it again, ever. It's probably the most brutal, inhuman thing I've ever seen. Brutal for too many reasons. Brutal beyond reason, really. There are parts I remember. All of the animals in a blue cistern. With no skin. I remember watching it, deeply drunk, and by the end I was more sober than I could ever recall. Like, the fear and revulsion and I guess, soul-sickness, sobered me right the fuck up. I truly didn't think this stuff ever actually could happen. It's hard to believe that our species does this kind of stuff, although we've done worse I guess.

Anyway ... [don't watch this. Or watch the first 15 seconds and turn it off]:

PETA video

... now THAT video? If I wore fur, I swear to Christ I'd stop.

Long and short, I'm sensitized to animal violence. More and more in my work, animals keep popping up. They don't always get treated nicely. I guess, as a writer, I come from a spot of: what galvanizes me emotionally? Mistreatment of animals is one of those hair-trigger reactions. I write about animals in many circumstances. In Rust and Bone, dogs are pitted against one another. There are the whales, yes. There's a story involving animals being filmed for a TV show.

In my new book the characters race greyhounds. That doesn't necessarily work out well. A raccoon gets shot and eaten. A skunk, too. In my story "The Burn," (which can be found on my website), a mouse comes to a bad end.

But I love animals. I've probably got an odd way of showing it, but yeah, I love all the little and big critters of the earth.

So I see this ADI press release and, I guess, the first sensation to wash over me is guilt. Because, hey, I based the story on my experiences. And then Jacques Audiard made the movie, and yes, he shot some of it at a park where animals perform. And so hey, maybe that means I'm in some way responsible for harm coming to those orcas.

But then the second feeling I had, washing in pretty quickly on the heels of the first, was anger.

Because hey, it's not like "Rocket Ride," the story, or "Rust and Bone," the film, is glorify the idea of captive orcas. This isn't a heartwarming story about a whale and her trainer defying the odds and being happy as clams in their little manmade environment.


This is a story and a film about a character who loses a leg (or legs) to a whale. Either one gets chewed off or an accident within the park brings that result about.

So it's not glorifying captivity. If anything it's saying: Hey, you do this to whales, you treat them this way, this is what you get. You lose a part of yourself for trying to take the wild part of that animal away.

There's even a paragraph in the story to that effect, near the end. I can't be bothered to go look it up right now but it's along the lines of: "As a human, you delude yourself into thinking you can own a wild thing, the same way you own your car or your lawnmover. But you don't, you can't, and the moment you realize that is the same moment is ceases to matter."

And there's a sense, from the character in the story, of penitence. Penitence for what he's done as a person and penitence for the way he's treated that animal. Not personally, he didn't build the park, but for being part of it. And in the end he puts his fate back in that animal's hands (or dorsal fins, whatever).

So yeah, it does piss me off. Because clearly ADI didn't read the story — which is fine, reading a 30 page story may be tough for some — or even watch the movie it seems. In any case, in my opinion they clearly didn't bother to sort out the context of it. To me it's like saying Schindler's List glorifies war. Really? To me it shows the horror of that, and perhaps the horrible reality of it.

But as much as I admire organizations like ADI and its ilk, I do realize that ultimately, they can be huge piggybackers. I spent a lot of time and gave a lot of myself to write the story (well, okay, not to get all artsy ... but I put in time at the park to get the inspiration). The filmmakers spent a lot of time making it. Then ADI comes along and says boycott it without, from what I can tell, any clear notion of why anyone should. To me it seems a case of someone there finding out a movie had been made featuring orcas and before anyone could do the sensible thing and investigate what, exactly, the film was trying to say as orcas and captivity is concerned, someone had drafted a press release and blurted it out. And they had to do it quickly to piggyback on the momentum and efforts of people who'd invested a lot of time and heart in making something that was important to them.

It's lame, really. It defeats their ambition, I think, of being seen as non-hysterical, non-reactionary humanitarians. It's half-cooked, half-cocked. People will see the movie and think: "God, ADI has no idea what the hell it's on about."

And that's why so many people think PETA's a joke now, sadly. In their effort to attract attention they often come off as ignorant, reactionary, and firing off in every direction.

But again, that's the agenda. It's not a nuanced perspective. And I get that. I watched those videos and said to myself: Nuance won't get you too far when fighting this kind of stuff. Fight fire with fire, etc. So I'm conflicted.

I don't think the boycott will do much. ADI released their press release, got their attention. A bunch of people will Tweet it. The film will come out. If anything, the boycott will ensure that more people go — which is probably just fine with ADI, if they want to be honest about it. They don't necessarily want to see it boycotted; they just want their boycott to get some traction and bring some attention, which I imagine it will.

It's tough. I don't envy ADI's situation. They want to see change and it's tough to get much. We don't always treat animals with the reverence or just general respect any living thing deserves. I get it. I'm on their side. But in this case it's a matter of seeing that their crusade tends to tar supporters and enemies alike.

I mean, just watch the object of your boycott. Or be honest and say you're just trying to bang the drum for a little attention. Be straight up about it. You'll sleep better.

All best, Craig.


  1. How wonderful to see this film "Rust and Bone" then read your comments. Now I must read the book. How does someone so young gain such insight? What a gift you have. Thank you for sharing this gift.

  2. It's obvious from your powerful writing that you're a very sensitive, reflecting and intelligent person - but in your post you make some points that I simply don't understand. For instance:
    " If anything it's saying: Hey, you do this to whales, you treat them this way, this is what you get. You lose a part of yourself for trying to take the wild part of that animal away."

    I get that it makes sense in a book, as fiction, but the moment you make the movie and actually use captivated animals, aren't you then doing exactly what you speak against? Taking the wild away from them. Or are you saying that the ends justify the means?
    How can people take it seriously if you try to fight a wrong by doing it yourself? The movie might be a touching and inspiring story in many aspects - concerning human relations, love etc. but as a comment against the way we treat animals, I think it lost its voice.

    Also your allegations against the animal gruops for being a joke or just wanting attention, firing off in every direction etc. I didn't understand.
    I think they're right to "fire off in every direction", because that's where the abuse is.
    And they're the ones who actually DO SOMETHING while the rest of us eat our chicken salads and carry on looking the other way, or watching movies, reading books or drunk-watching ads in the night, only thinking "somebody ought to do something about that".
    ADI and PETA got their asses off the couch and actually do.
    They firmly believe in not keeping wild animals (like orcas) captive for entertainment purposes. This, I understand from your post, is something you support. Yet in the making of this movie you needed to use the captive wild animals for entertainment purposes (which most fiction movies are). So it's ok sometimes?
    PETA or ADI would be a joke if they tried to nuance it like that. So for the filming of this book probably only excellent CGI could come to the rescue, or maybe it was meant to be one of those stories which should have lived exclusively in that other wild which we try to keep captive for entertainment purposes: the imagination.

    In your post you say: " they clearly didn't bother to sort out the context of it. To me it's like saying Schindler's List glorifies war."
    That's no real comparison. If it were, it would be like Schindler's List using real live concentration camp prisoners to make the movie. And that's why the argument fails. And why the context of rust and bones doesn't matter and why ADI and PETA needn't see it. The fact that wild animals were used for the movies is all they need to know. It is the one fact that makes the context not matter. Just as there would be no imaginable excuses to put people in concentration camps to make a movie - no matter how good.
    I hope you regain some of your lost respect for those who fight the cruelty, the wrongs, the ridicule and the lost respect from brilliant writers who happen to crave the exemption from the rules because they feel that their story is above them.

    I wish you would embrace the humbling fact that your brilliant story is not above the beauty of wild animals in the wild and the belief that rules and values should apply equally to us all.

    I hope your love for animals in combination with your gift for writing will join the search/fight for something better than what is. And if you find that quest lacking, ridiculous, inept - than please help better it instead of diminishing it from a personal interest p.o.v.

    Thank you so much for the great stories.


    1. Hi Ann,

      Very brief note to say that your points are well taken. This post was written in haste, perhaps, and not as nuanced as it ought to have been ... but overall, in its sentiment, it fairly represents my feelings, as your reply represents yours. I'm sure we both are more or less similar in our outlooks overall, but it's the small nuances that shade us one way or another. I've written a piece dealing with the real life situation of whales in captivity, which will appear in a magazine this year; I will inevitably post it here, too, so check back if you'd like, read the piece and see if it more ably captures my sense of this issue. All best, Craig.