Director Michael Webber takes an unexpectedly even-handed approach with his documentary look at the surprisingly common phenomenon of people keeping dangerous exotic animals as pets. He allows the proponents of exotic pets to make their own case – and it’s kind of amazing and appealing to see a human being and a mountain lion interacting affectionately as though the animal is just a house cat – but in every instance there are always consequences for the animals, the human owners or both. In the end, the elephant in the living room is never remarked upon directly, but it comes across loud and clear anyway: people and wild animals aren’t meant to be together. It’s not good for the animals and it’s often not good for the people, either.

Though he pulls good and bad stories from many of the 30 states where keeping wild animals is entirely legal, Webber’s focus falls on two Ohio men: Tim Harrison, a police officer, paramedic and fireman who has made it his life’s work to rescue captive wild animals when they’re abandoned or when they turn deadly and Terry Brumfield, a well-meaning animal lover whose two African lions risk becoming more than he can realistically handle. Though they’re on opposite sides of the same issue, both are decent men who love the animals in question. The difference is that Brumfield only ever seems to think about his own wants and needs and not whether it’s good for a pair of grown lions to be living in a metal cage in an Ohio backyard. He intends no harm, and yet harm seems inevitable.

Brumfield is breaking no laws and there’s no question that he loves his animals – indeed they rescued him from a deep depression. All Harrison can do is to gently try to convince the man to give the animals up and, if he succeeds in doing that, to find some place that is able to take on the burden of two grown lions. It’s a story fraught with peril and doubt and it provides a compelling backbone to the documentary.

One Response to “The Elephant in the Living Room (2011)”

  1. That sounds pretty interesting. Kind of strange no one’s made a documentary about this topic before (that I know of) since there’s always an uproar whenever some terrible human fatality or mauling results from keeping such animals as pets.

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