On Wild Animals, Hubris, and Redemption

in Society & Animals
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  • 1 University of Guelph


This review considers three recent films that focus on the lives of captive exotic animals and the people who keep them: Water for Elephants (2011), a fictional Hollywood feature, and the documentaries One Lucky Elephant (2010) and The Elephant in the Living Room (2010). Despite their different motivations and target audiences, all three productions tell the stories of well-meaning people who take wild animals captive—most prominently elephants and lions—believing that only they can keep the animals safe and fulfilled. In each context, these people have profound, if self-interested, emotional attachments to their nonhuman captives. These three films, then, offer captive wild animals as ambivalent figures and cinematic loci for stories of human hubris and redemption.

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