In lieu of celebrating the fourth of July, I watched the documentary Earthlings.

The film is a procession of painful-to-watch footage. It takes you inside factory farms, puppy mills, and laboratories. It shows you death by lethal injection, gas chamber, throat slitting, strangulation, electrocution, and blood loss. It reveals the suffering, terror, agony, grief, and desperation of countless animals.

The images are too ghastly and atrocious to translate into words. There is no way to describe the eyes of a cow whose throat is being sawed into with a dull blade. Or the face of a dolphin who, hooked and chained to the back of a car, is being dragged bloodily down the street. Or the gait of a pig dragging a watermelon-sized abscess. Or the scars on the forehead of a circus elephant who has been whipped into submission. Or the expression of an injured dog who has been tossed into the container of a garbage truck.

It was evident that much of the material had been obtained undercover. At times the flaps of jackets entered the sides of the screens, presumably the result of a concealed camera. I’m sure that the act of filming required many levels of compassion and courage. To take the risk of not being caught, to witness these atrocities, to withhold one’s own desire to cry out and physically intervene – this is not the sort of work that just anyone can undertake.

I watched with two other people. We winced and gasped in unison. We heard one another’s oh my gods. We shared the comforting snuggle of an oblivious cat.

Yet the three of us were already vegan. Already well aware of global animal cruelty and the need to take a stand against it. As such, I’m unsure why we felt the urge to watch it. Certainly it didn’t give us any warm or fuzzy feelings. It yanked us in and dropped us off loaded with outrage, grief, despair, and an indescribable sadness.

There was nothing in this film that took me by surprise. Even the few cruel practices that I was unfamiliar with (rubbing red pepper flakes into the eyes of Indian cattle to force them to keep walking, for instance) did not require any suspension of disbelief. I didn’t question the validity of any of it. The most heartbreaking change that I underwent in becoming vegan was accepting that humans are committing unthinkably cruel acts every second of every day. This documentary impels the viewer to draw the same conclusion.

What does it say about me (about anyone) that mere moments after the film has ended I can go on with my life? Did my mind truly digest all of those horrific images? Or did I push them aside to linger in the periphery of my perspective? Maybe. But there is no way that I will ever forget the sight of a pig undergoing a slow slaughter or a wolf skinned alive. These images are too gut-wrenching to dissipate in my memory’s montage of images viewed secondhand.

It is both a blessing and misfortune of film that we are able to shut it off. The movie ends or we lose interest, and then we move on.

Earthlings will not let you do that. It will penetrate the years of desensitization. If you care at all about animals, it will not leave you untouched. Hopefully it will inspire you to do more, to increase your efforts. If nothing else, it will refuel your passion and remind you why your choices are so crucial. It reminded me why I went vegan in the first place. And it reinforced why I intend to stay vegan forever.

(Note: You can watch this film for free on The documentary’s official website is:


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