Directed by Emma Davie (“I Am Breathing”, “Soliloquy”) and Peter Mettler (“Picture Of Light”, “Tectonic Plates”), Becoming Animal is an audiovisual experience about our connection to nature (both fauna and flora, despite the limiting title) and technologies barriers towards it.
The filmmakers, alongside writer and philosopher David Abram who provides the documentary’s narration, walk inside and around the Grand Tetons National Park, capturing the images and sounds of nature and the man-made cities surrounding it.
Unlike most nature documentaries that provide very lush images of animals completed with educational information on them – placing humans as an observant entity far above the rest of the natural world – Becoming Animals immerses the viewer in raw shots of the National Park with footage that resembles home videos of hiking trips, showing the nature that surrounds us under the most realistic light.
The film isn’t trying to magnify nature but to argue that it is magnificent enough in its rawest form. Most of all, the filmmakers took great care to offer an audio experience as well, each sound reverberating like music and placing the viewer even more firmly inside the natural world that is presented to us.
The narration from David Abram, far from teaching us about the various life forms we encounter, tells us about our own human life and our place on Earth, touching on light philosophical and existential matters.
The core subject of the documentary is indeed on the connectivity of nature (us included) and how what we assume separates us from animals (for example our capacity to speak, read and write) actually comes from them.
The lines and rings that mark the bark of a tree becomes the basis on which humans invented writing and the eerie, melodic sound elk emits at night explains humans’ ear for music; when Abram places his hand on a tree, he declares that he can feel the tree touching him, and indeed, after a dozen minutes, everything the filmmakers show us seem to be brimming with a life that both explains our own and reaches out to it.
There is another side to this documentary, however, and that is humans’ disconnection from nature, mainly through technology. This aspect is explored in the second part of the film, and while it offers an interesting insight into our current worldview, it quickly becomes redundant and moralistic.
There is nothing we don’t already know about our extensive and addictive use of technology or our lack of interest for the natural world – pointing it out while offering no concrete solution isn’t particularly helpful.
While it is expected for a documentary about our connection to nature to explore our lack of connection as well, it unfortunately turns Becoming Animal from an immersive philosophical experience to a rather conventional documentary with what feels like outdated and hypocritical reproaches.
David Abram mentioning with contempt how people automatically record everything they witness while himself participating in the making of a movie, for example.
Becoming Animal would have benefited from staying focused on the natural world and expanding the audiovisual experience to the entire runtime instead of delving into the man-made world and its negative impact; but despite the dull second part, the first part is great enough to make the documentary worth watching.