EO is a challenging and slow film that is worth the trip.
Published on March 8, 2023
Rating 3.5 /5
EO is a film about a donkey who experiences the oddities of humanity through the past presented before him. Director Jerzy Skolimowski will surely get some explicit comparisons to a similar film, Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar. While it does adopt a similar format, EO takes the donkey-observer format and gives it a more dynamic visual edge.
There’s a harsh palette present that makes the journey of EO a more frightening and epic one to behold. It all starts with the stark and garish lights of the circus, where the donkey EO performs. From his perspective, EO can only spot glimpses of humans and the blinding nature of the harsh red lights. Soon, animal rights activists force EO out of the circus. He soon finds himself going through various jobs and associations, from being a patient in a hospital to the mascot of a football match.
We get to know the human characters but only through the passive nature of the donkey. Some of them return to his life to show him love. Others only view him as a tool for their own operations. Others meet unfortunate ends with the association, either through EO’s mighty kicks or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This leads to some incredibly tragic and violent encounters. There are even some striking moments of fugue states where the titular donkey envisions a red sky above a windmill, trying to contemplate his place in the world.
EO has been highly revered for its contemplative and free-flowing nature. While it’d be easy to dismiss such a picture as an overlong pretentious trip, the film does try to evoke more profound contemplation between animal and man. It’s easy to feel for the donkey because…well, he’s a cute little donkey thrown into somber situations. His innocence is further focused on as he continues down paths where humans engage in petty violence while the donkey keeps marching on. While a human might see a situation of a donkey kicking someone in the face, the donkey witnesses the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a means of escape, but all he is doing is running to the next stage of his life. The donkey is sadly placed on a rigid track of man and has no choice but to move forward, wherever that path may take him. His fate is out of his hands.
This is a wise film in that it never tries too hard to force its point, letting the animal's innocent and oblivious reactions do all the talking. Throughout the picture, there’s a silent nature to how EO judges the world. There’s plenty of time to think about what might be going through this animal’s head and, more importantly, how we present ourselves to animals who view the world differently. There’s something remarkable about a picture like this relying on that unspoken connection to nature that makes it such an engrossing picture, forcing the audience to stay with the donkey and see his journey to the end.
EO is a challenging and slow film that is worth the trip. It’s not an easy picture to digest, given the material is exceptionally cruel, depicting EO being beaten and witnessing animal deaths (don’t worry, the film assures the audience no animals were harmed). There’s also some disturbing behavior of the human characters, including murder and abusive attitudes. While it's not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, this contemplative and sometimes an extreme picture will win over anybody willing to take a different look at life and find empathy within animals.
Mark has been a professional film critic for over five years and a film lover all his life.