Love is messy, unfathomable, and occasionally lethal, as this low-budget, benignly prosaic exposé of the trade in non-domesticated animals proves. The film revolves around Tim Harrison, a type-A Ohio cop whose encounters with escaped exotics has fostered a dedication to their protection, and Terry Brumfield, a soft-spoken but unhappy ex–truck driver increasingly overwhelmed by the responsibilities of keeping several lions. More than just a documentarian’s trick, this juxtaposition allows director Michael Webber to credibly present (and muddle) the pro/con argument on exotics, as well as effectively reveal both the self-centered hubris it takes to keep such animals and their singular appeal. Webber relies too much on statistics-heavy intertitles and repetitive trips by Harrison to Brumfield’s suburban ranch, and the drippy synth score by David E. Russo—with a couple of perplexingly placed songs by Mark Kozelek—grates. But the director is canny enough to resist turning The Elephant in the Living Room into the contrived showdown it initially appears to be. Instead, the film ultimately serves as an edifying (who knew Ohio’s Amish were big into exotic-animal auctions?) and unsensational (excepting one horrifying scene involving Brumfield’s beloved male lion) look into a peculiar corner of American acquisitiveness.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 6, 2011