There’s a lot to take in with Jerzy Skolimowski’s affecting drama EO; so much so that it might be a hard watch for some.
Undeniably beautiful, EO follows a donkey of the same name who works with a loving circus performer named Kasandra (Sandra Dryzmalska) in a traveling show that becomes the target of animal activists. Fearing the animals are being abused, the show is reported to the authorities, and the animals are taken away. While Kasandra is clearly devastated at the loss of her beloved partner, so too is EO.
This begins his journey throughout the modern European countryside as he encounters a variety of souls, both benign and not so. Where EO ends up is the question that haunts the viewer from his first journey away from the home he’s known for years.
Skolimowski’s story brings EO face to face with a litany of different people, from the kind-hearted to the disaffected, to the downright cruel. He faces those that just don’t understand how to deal with another species, to those with the empathy to connect to him. All of this is seen through the warm, humble eyes of a donkey just trying to find his place in the world while discovering pieces of it he’s never seen. Some of it beautiful. Some of it cruel. All of it taken in with wonder.
The journey itself brings EO to people whose stories we soon follow. We get tastes of their lives, moments in time that EO becomes a part of, even if briefly. But it begs the question of where animals fit in the lives of human beings who have settled into their selfish roles at the top of the food chain.
While EO is endeared to some of those he interacts with, others treat him as a sideshow. A plaything that will come and go like the weather. But EO is a living, breathing, sentient being, and Skolimowski shows us how we often forget that. If an animal can’t tell us it’s annoyed, happy, hurt, sad, or angry, then in many ways, it doesn’t exist, right?
So we go along with EO, and as we do, we become aware of his actual place in the world, and we long for it to be more profound. More meaningful. Because despite not having a voice… despite not being able to communicate his feelings clearly… we empathically feel his struggles, pain, and joy.
Despite being a profoundly beautiful film, EO is an incriminatory look at how we interact with the animal world, what we expect of them, how we view them, and ultimately how we view ourselves in relation to them. And it’s not a pretty sight. This is why the film can be so devastating and should be a wake-up call for us to re-learn what our relationship to the animal world is and a call for compassion for all living things.