Gunda Film Review (2020) Produced By Joaquin Phoenix
Executive producer Joaquin Phoenix’s latest film is a mesmerizing collaboration with famed Russian director Victor Kossakovsky.
Lacking the factory farms or slaughterhouses of his earlier productions, it also dispenses with words, subtitles, music, and actors in getting its message across.
Yet Gunda is anything but boring! The magic of seeing the sow and her tribe of piglets foraging in the grass at the woodlands’ edge and romping like a pack of puppies was like stepping back in time.
Hearing their constant grunting and squealing over the sound of birds calling transported me back to childhood. It recaptured the days before cell phones and gadgets had become my constant distractions.
I grew up around farm animals. Gunda reconnected me to a timewhen it was the most natural thing in the world to pause and watch the birds and animals – because I had nothing better to do.
Or the hours I passed playing outside amongst the trees, rolling around in the grass and dirt and brushing away the slightly annoying flies.
Gunda stirred memories of other beautiful bugs, an ever-present buzzing during the summers of my youth.
In one of the fillm’s unforgettable moment, dozens of dairy cows exit the barn. They run and buck with all the abandon of young schoolchildren turned loose for recess. Then they gallop toward a pasture fence, like teenagers frantically making a break for it.
Whether following the frolicking cows, the one-legged rooster navigating over a log, or the growing piglets, the camera remains at its subjects’ level. Through the piglets’ eyes, we see that world is full of wonders to explore.
(That’s unless they aren’t driven by the instinct to search for food or play with their siblings!)
An authentic picture of farm-animal life, Gunda has one disconcerting scene when the tiniest piglet gets separated from the brood. Gunda carefully paws through the hay, but when she uncovers the struggling runt, what looked like maternal concern morphs into shocking violence.
The mother intentionally steps on her baby, then carefully re-covers it and lies down as if pondering what she’s done. As the question, “Did Gunda kill her baby?” raced through my mind, I continued watching.
Was the little piglet really dead? But the filmmakers chose not to provide an answer.
Perhaps Gunda put the little one out of its misery. Through an online search, I discovered that captive gilt pigs like Gunda (less than one-year-old) sometimes “savage” their babies shortly after birthing their litters.
In extreme cases, they may cannibalize their young. According to the UK’s National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS), gilt savaging occurs in about one of every 100 pig farm litters. But in severe conditions, it may rise to one in two!
For the rest of the film, Gunda’s utmost tenderness and vigilance toward her brood make the apparent stomping even more distressing. By the final scene, I couldn’t help empathizing with her motherly concern.
Seeing the World through Other Eyes
As humans, we can’t share pigs’ understanding of life. But we can see that they do have a life!
In Gunda’s scariest moment, a tractor toting a speared root-debris rake and pulling a storage container rolls into the barnyard. It backs up to the barn door, someone opens the container, and frantic squealing begins.
After the tractor pulls away, Gunda slowly emerges from the barn. Desperately agitated, she spends the next 10 heartbreaking minutes frantically pacing the barnyard.
Every few paces, she stops to listen and sniff the air. The agitated mother is looking for something, but only the silence from within the barn tells us what it is.
Obviously, from her perspective, a monstrous alien has just abducted her babies. Her facial “expressions” alone make Gunda well worth watching.
A French philosopher once wrote, “I think; therefore, I am.” Gunda leaves no doubt that all its subjects think and feel; the movie’s underlying message is that animals are sentient beings.
They think, therefore they are. And if we took the time to see life from their perspective, our voracious appetite for eating such marvelous creatures might cease to exist!