Monday, August 01, 2005

Animal Planet

This past Friday, I saw March of the Penguins with Lauren. We selected Millburn as the location, and before I get to my thoughts on the movie, allow me to complain for a moment. This was a 9pm showing. Of course, that didn't stop a particular couple from bringing their two young children. Both kids were noisy, but the youngest one by far would not stop talking. This was a small theater, so it didn't matter where you sat, you could hear the kid: "Mommy, why is he doing that? What are they doing? What's happening?" Not once did those parents tell the kids to shush or pipe down. Hi, this is a movie theater, where I just paid $9.25 to see a movie about penguins. This is not your living room. Will you tell your kids to shut to eff up? Thanks.

Now, to the movie. Loved it. I kept whispering to Lauren, "This is unbelievable!" Because really, it was. I don't necessarily mean the movie (although it is well shot, I thought, and the fact that these guys were in Antarctica filming all this for 13 months is tremendously impressive) but I mean what these penguins go through to reproduce.

I have been reading about Mei Xiang and her panda cub at the National Zoo, and I was fascinated to learn that a female panda will not eat or drink for almost a month after she gives birth because the cub cannot be left alone. Then I found out from M of the P that male penguins will not eat for 4 months while tending to the egg and then the chick - they lose up to half their body weight. And I thought, damn. Those pandas are freaking lazy bastards.

Anyway, it was a great movie, the penguins are completely amazing and adorable, and I highly recommend it. I'll tell you, there are some things in it that are tough to take and yes, being the nut job that I am, I may have teared up a few times.

One of the things that was particularly intriguing to me, though, was a human's desire to anthropomorphize other creatures. There are points in the movie where a human's overwhelming maternal or paternal instincts is placed onto these penguins. For instance, one penguin loses her chick to the elements and stands over him for a few moments, as if beseiged by the unbearable loss. She then tries to steal another mother's chick, unsuccessfully. It's almost human, the response, and the narration (perfectly done by Morgan Freeman) plays on that. Yet, later, the mother penguins stand by and do nothing when a large preying gull attacks the chicks. So, clearly, the human maternal instinct is not the same as that of the penguins. It kind of reminded me of Pi's father's admonition to him and his brother in Life of Pi, that these are wild animals and you must not think they feel the same as we do. Pi remembers this, even as he places human feelings onto Richard Parker (a Bengal tiger) while stuck in a life raft with him.

Anyhoo, I was reminded of this again when I listened to an interview with the director of Grizzly Man (Werner Herzog), a doc about grizzly bears and an amateur grizzly enthusiast, Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell was killed by the grizzlies he so loved in 2003, and from the previews, it's pretty clear that he a) was mentally unstable and b) thought these bears were his friends. If you want to hear the Herzog interview, it's here.

I also watched The Ghost and the Darkness, about the man-eating lions of Tsavo. I saw it a few years ago, it scared the bejesus out of me, and thought I'd watch it again. Anyway, if you're not familiar with the story, check this out, and I do recommend the movie - Michael Douglas at his campy best, and Val Kilmer does a shitty Irish accent.... but it's largely accurate and suspenseful.

So, there you have it. Lions, bears, and penguins. And for those of you who didn't know that ligers are real, well, they are.


  1. Wasn't mei zhang my old roommate?

  2. Yeah. And apparently she just gave birth to a baby panda. Go figure.

  3. Oh good, at least I'm not the only one who did a double take on that name.