‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’ is Passionate Yet Muddled

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Average: 4.9 (7 votes)
HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – It’s difficult to comment upon a documentary like “The Ghosts in Our Machine,” as it advocates an important issue regarding our very nature – the relationship we have with our food and the animals that provide that food. However, the structure of the film and the centerpiece photographer profile obscures the point of view.

That photographer is Jo-Anne McArthur, whose life’s work is capturing the images of animals – used for food and fur – in the often harsh environments of their developmental captivity. This is difficult stuff, especially if you have a relationship with an animal or just love them overall. It may change your attitude toward meat eating in any form, or it may at least provide some perspective on his ongoing “elephant in the room” – that of the inherent torture of food and fur animals before they are inevitably slaughtered. Director Liz Marshall has rendered an almost meditative film, shrouded in dreamy imagery and soft commentary by animal experts and Ms. McArthur, but not all that convincing as a position on the obviously controversial topic.

Jo-Anne McArthur has been on a journey all her life, to professionally photograph animals in harsh captivity, crammed in factory farms and otherwise harmed by their imprisoned environments. Her images are hard to digest, as they show the fear and pain in the eyes of our fellow animal travelers, forced into a situation that is beyond their control.

Jo-Anne McArthur
Photographer Jo-Anne McArthur in ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’
Photo credit: Ghosts Media

Within the documentary, McArthur is shown sneaking into the captivity areas, passionately risking her own rights by bravely taking these pictures. She is also shown pitching these photos to representatives in the media, hoping to get more exposure for an important problem. Director Liz Marshall also includes voiceover expertise from animal advocates all over the world.

The film is affected by a lack of solid narrative. Long, dreamy sweeps of McArthur’s images are followed by longer sequences seemingly unrelated to the previous scenes. If this is an intentional approach, it doesn’t strengthen the promotion of their position – which beyond cries of “food chain,” is fairly hard to argue against. The truth of animal rights orientation is self evident – we share the earth with them, and we should be interacting with them humanely.

Another weakness is the scatter shot approach in profiling the animals. There are positioning statements regarding cattle, pigs, poultry, foxes, beagles, monkeys and marine life at SeaWorld-type shows. The focus on one or two species might have been more compelling, such as was done in this year’s similar documentary “Blackfish.” It became a distraction.

The centerpiece individual in profile – the photographer Jo-Anne McArthur – is truly a warrior in this battle. Her skill and compassion is virtual in every scene she occupies. But as a documentary study, she is decidedly low key and has a personality that is based on what she does, which is solitary work as a photographer. As someone in the focus, she never becomes clear.

The Ghost in Our Machine
Tattooed Lab Beagle is Exposed in ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’
Photo credit: Ghosts Media

What is undeniable about the film is that the food industry has abused the food chain. Instead of it working as a natural rhythm, the industry and factory farms have produced, bred and slaughtered its way into a horrible situation for our furry and finny friends. One of the editors that Ms. McArthur visits in the film reminds her that although it’s a crisis that no one wants to pay attention to, the situation is too grave to give up the fight. Which is why this film exists, even if it has a loose effectiveness.

Fast food, slow food, haute cuisine and “FrankenFoods” all contribute to this immorality. It’s the eyes of the animals that convince you in this documentary, the desperate plea reflecting back from the windows of their souls.

“The Ghosts in Our Machine” continues its limited release in Chicago on December 6th. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring Jo-Anne McArthur, Temple Grandin and Martin Rowe. Written and directed by Liz Marshall. Not Rated.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2013 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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