I’ll be frank, Earthlings is hands down the most disturbing documentary I have ever seen, and I have a feeling it’ll hold it’s rank forever. When I was newly vegan, I was all about vegan documentaries. Cowspiracy, What the Health, Food Inc., you name it, I’ve seen it. I had always heard about Earthlings, and how it’s a “must watch” for all vegetarians and prospective vegans, so in February of 2017, I decided to give it a try. How bad could it be? The answer: really, really bad.
Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, it’s broken up into five chapters: pets, food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. After having watched the first chapter (about fifteen minutes) that closed with the image of a pit bull in a garbage disposal, I clung to my dog for dear life as hysterical as I’ve ever been and it subsequently took me an entire year to finish the remaining hour and twenty minutes, watching parts sporadically as I couldn’t handle the emotional and psychological pain. It’s the realist horror movie you could ever see (and is even categorized as such by IMDb).
Why would anyone want to torture themselves like that? As a vegan, I thought I already knew all there was to know. Meat is bad, milk is bad, eggs are bad, leather is bad. But what makes them bad? Bearing witness to it is a much more visceral experience than reading about it, and honestly I think the experience of watching Earthlings is what made me commit to veganism for life and become more of an animal activist than a passive individual. To read that leather cows have their tails broken and chili pepper paste rubbed in their eyes to keep them moving, or that monkeys have their necks broken when they’re used as car crash dummies, or that foxes have electric prods forced into their anuses is bad enough, but maybe not enough to stop one from buying leather or products tested on animals or fur coats. When you see it, you may think differently.
We live in a capitalistic society which means we’re so very far removed from the products that we consume that we forget what they started off as. Bread was once wheat, your jacket was once a cow and your breakfast was once a little pink piglet. The age-old question is “Would you kill it yourself?” and although people may say yes to be spiteful, the true answer, once one is standing face to face with a screaming, suffering animal, is no. So even if your answer is no, you can still see what it’s like second-hand.
People are afraid to give up the lifestyles they’ve been accustomed to, trust me, I know. I grew up as a (mostly) Italian-American in New York who regularly visited Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to have mile high prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches. Taking everything you’ve known to be a symbol of family and comfort and flipping your world upside down is terrifying. But nothing is more terrifying than being an animal tortured for the sake of human consumption and entertainment.
If you’d like, you can watch Earthlings for free here.