Give us this day our daily bread, and also a bit of cheese for Judge Clark Douglas.
Welcome to the world of industrial food production.
I like meat. I always have and probably always will. I understand that being a vegetarian would most assuredly be better for my health, and I'm not ignorant of the horrors of the food industry. Even so, my own desire for a nice, juicy steak has always outweighed anything I have learned or heard. Sure, it's kind of creepy when you watch a film like Fast Food Nation and hear Bruce Willis talking about burgers with fecal matter in them. It's quite unpleasant to listen to a cool, calm narrator on PBS telling me about how many awful things were probably in that chicken sandwich I ate last night. Even so, these things have had absolutely no impact whatsoever on my personal life. I continue to eat precisely the way I want to eat, and I'm not bothered about it for more than 12 hours or so. I am not one who frequently makes drastic lifestyles changes because they heard something on the radio or saw something in a movie.
That may have changed. I've recently witnessed a film called Our Daily Bread. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it is one of the most profoundly revealing and thought-provoking documentaries I have seen. The film was directed by Nikolaus Geyrhalter, who makes some very bold choices. The film's purpose is to give viewers an in-depth look at how food gets to the dinner table. There seems to be a slight emphasis on meat, but the film is certainly not limited to that. We see steps in the various processes for producing everything from potatoes to chicken to tomatoes to sausage. "What's so bold about that?" you might ask. "I've seen all that before on the telly." Yes, you have. Geyrhalter's film is not bold for what it contains, but rather for what it doesn't contain: a sermon.
In fact, the film doesn't contain any explanations of any sort. The images are not narrated, there are no captions explaining what is going on, and the occasional snippets of dialogue between workers in factories are not translated into English. This is what makes Our Daily Bread so terrifyingly effective. The images here are potent and powerful, ranging from the serenely breathtaking to the horrifying. The film might be easier to process, digest, and dismiss if we had someone explaining it all to us. If only we had a narrator giving us details, we might be able to argue back by saying, "Oh, come on, you're just going for dramatic effect." No. We can only bicker with our own instinctual reactions.
Things are always more powerful when you see them in person. In almost any film, there's a certain level of disconnect that simply can't be removed. You may feel that you fully appreciate and understand what you have seen, but you really can't fully appreciate it and understand it unless you have actually witnessed it with your own eyes. Even so, somehow Our Daily Bread seems to contradict that rule. There are no effects here remind us that we are watching a movie. No narration, no musical score, no self-promotional camera angles. The film is simply there, and the viewers are left to process it however they see fit. There will undoubtedly be viewers who find the film's style to be dull, and dismiss it as "boring" without really giving it much thought. However, most thoughtful viewers will be fascinated. The power of the images here cannot be denied.
I should offer you a fair warning. Our Daily Bread is not for the faint of heart, despite its rather serene title. I'm serious, I could barely get through some of this stuff. We see animals slaughtered in a particularly graphic way, and there are all kinds of other intensely disturbing images throughout. A bored-looking woman cuts the feet off of dead pigs with a powerful piece of machinery. Another worker spends her days sorting through intestines. Hordes of little baby chicks are dumped into machines and spit out into various carts and boxes. A man cuts a large slit in the side of a live cow and pulls out a calf. The worst is a scene in which a cow enters a machine, realizes at the last minute exactly what is going on, and desperately attempts to escape. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. It's certainly not a pleasant watch, and you definitely don't want to see the film shortly before, during, or shortly after a meal. Oh sure, there are slightly disturbing images involving the chemicals used on plants and such, but these simply can't compare to all the blood and guts seen in the meat-packing plants.
The film looks quite good on DVD. The image is sharp and well-balanced, background detail is strong, and blacks are reasonably deep. Normally with a film so reliant on visuals as this one, I would suggest that it would look even better on Blu-ray, but I'm not so sure this time. Seeing these images in 1080p might just be too much for this viewer to handle. The audio is perfectly adequate, though we're not dealing with anything more complex here than natural captured sound design. Rarely does the audio play a particularly significant role here. The extras are pretty minimal. A photo gallery is included, along with a PDF file featuring an interview with the director. That's it.
As I mentioned, the film can be rather difficult to watch, even for viewers
with tough stomachs. Despite this, I think that the film is probably essential
viewing. It has accomplished the considerable feat of actually challenging my
current way of thinking when it comes to deciding what to put on my plate and
truly opening my eyes to a world that I knew about but never took much time to
think about. I'm not saying that it has turned me into a vegetarian overnight,
but it's certainly not going to disappear from my mind like it's preachier
predecessors. Very highly recommended, and most assuredly not guilty.
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