Overview: After 30 years of struggling with ineffective animal welfare laws, renowned animal rights attorney Steven Wise and his legal team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), have found a novel way to protect animals. They are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform an animal from a thing with no rights to a person with legal protections.
Directed by Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker (who previously collaborated on HBO’s Emmy-winning ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY), the thought-provoking documentary UNLOCKING THE CAGE follows Wise’s unprecedented quest to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. It is an intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform the legal system, and one man’s quest to break down the wall that separates humans from animals.
Expectations: Just based off of the simple overview above I can see that this topic is a hot one. We are striving here to acknowledge that animals are now people? I vaguely remember this quest being in the news but never quite thought the right authorities would grant such status. Though I have an opinion on the topic I don’t really have any big expectations from this film. I just hope that it establishes Wise’s goal clearly. It is from that stance that I will form any solid opinion about the notion of an animal becoming a person. From the trailer, Steven Wise certainly sounds impassioned.
Gut Reaction: To me, this topic screams to be examined far more than the structure of the film and the delivery of the message within it. There is literally no problem how UNLOCKING THE CAGE tells the story of Steven Wise and his goal of granting personhood to animals. We learn of his quest, his research, his procurement of defendants and the court time to plead his case and all his successes and losses along the way. But the real impact of this documentary is the subject matter alone as Wise does not come across as very appealing or charismatic.
Now to the matter at hand. Anyone who follows my writing knows I am an animal advocate. I believe they have a right to good treatment and I wish that human animals across the world would share in that thought. However, I see fault in what Wise proposes her as much as I champion animal welfare. There are moments that judges whom Wise appeared before utter the very thoughts I hold on the matter. Isn’t his claims a question of animal welfare and cruelty determent? Though it would be wonderful to eliminate animal abuses Wise cause and his ability to carry it out are full of holes, so many I wouldn’t know where to begin citing them. In short, Wise gives weak arguments and repetitive ones at that, he has skipped the logical steps of the welfare laws and gone straight for the ultimate goal and it is a leap most won’t accept.
On the flip side of it all is Wise’s best notion that if inanimate objects like ships and intangible concepts like corporations can obtain personhood, why can’t a chimpanzee? Though by my thoughts above you might think my attention to Wise’s tactics and behaviors overshadowed by attention to the topic, but you’d be wrong. The very questions raised on both sides of the issue makes up the story here.
In Conclusion: UNLOCKING THE CAGE is worth the watch; is worth the debate and is worth listening to. Wise says he just wants to take the first step in starting the dialog. He has achieved that my making it to the New York Supreme Court and via this very documentary. Animal personhood is not an open & shut case. It still goes on. Where do you stand? I’ll gladly debate it in the comments below.
Next: It’s time for “competitive endurance tickling” when TICKLED debuts Monday, February 27 at 10:00pm, followed by an HBO exclusive follow-up entitled THE TICKLE KING.