NR, 4 stars
“You don’t have to go to Africa to see a lion, “ says Tim Harrison, an Ohio policeman and animal rescue expert. “You don’t have to go to Canada to see a bear. You go to Anywhere, USA, and those animals will be there.”
Harrison says that he used to receive around six animal rescue calls per year. Since the reality TV boom of the ‘90s — which brought personalities like Steve Erwin and Jeff Corwin into the American living room — his calls rose to about 100 per year. The Elephant in the Living Room shows us that these lions, tigers and bears might be living closer to home than you might imagine.
Directed by documentary-newbie Mike Webber, the film examines the issue of exotic animal ownership, in which the likes of Bengal tigers and Amazonian pythons are kept as domesticated pets. This topic has been bubbling below the media’s surface for some time now, with plenty of gay marriage and gun control debates sprouting up to fill the national spot light. But there are two passionate sides to this argument, with a line clearly drawn between.
Webber centers his narrative on a pair of Ohio men who give each side of the argument a truly personal perspective. Tim Harrison is one of them, and he makes his position clear. While sympathetic to the folks who love their “wild” animals (he sheltered several abandoned cougars who were in between homes), he thinks that owning them should be illegal. It's a potential danger not only to human beings, but to the animals themselves.
Terry Brumfield is on the other side of the argument, an endearing fellow whose own lion cub helped him cope with depression following a serious injury in a tractor accident. He named it Lambert. With his shaggy head of hair and his wild beard, Terry’s a lovable Cowardly Lion himself. He understands that owning Lambert may be dangerous, but Lambert’s healthy and is his only marker of happiness amid bouts of serious depression.
Despite their differences, Harrison and Brumfield share moments of camaraderie — while looking in on Lambert’s cage, they see that his female counterpart, Lacie, has had cubs. No more arguments, no more fights, only the smiles of the two men as they are at their core: animal lovers.
Sleek and technically proficient, the film trades clever graphics and animated pie charts for heartfelt conversations and intelligent debates. The Elephant in the Living Room starts strong and ends stronger, growing more complex as it trucks along, all the while asking: Is exotic wildlife ownership an animal problem, or a people problem?