By politicalmediareview
February 16th, 2009

Shaun Monson
Nation Earth (2003)
Reviewed by Adam Kochanowicz



The 2003 documentary film Earthlings, Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Shaun Monson, presents a shocking account of the relationships between nature, nonhuman animals, and humankind with horrifying images of animal use over the swooning original soundtrack by Moby.

While Earthlings’ thesis is the noble comparison of these three elements of life, the film mostly draws on the dark consequences of human dominance over animals. At the start of the film, we’re left to ponder “The Three Stages of Truth” written ominously on the screen with no explanation: “1. Ridicule, 2. Violent Opposition, 3. Acceptance.” This matter-of-fact testament serves as a warning when culture-defining practices of animal consumption are compared with Nazism, sexism, and racism.

In this way, Earthlings takes a more thorough approach to the problem of animal commodification than films like PETA’s Meet your Meat whose focus is solely on the suffering of animals detached from the institution of slavery which demands mistreatment as a cost. More noticeably, Earthlings runs a full 95 minutes compared to the YouTube-length exposes of mass animal husbandry.

Phoenix makes Earthlings a far-reaching documentary by comprehensively illustrating the negative consequences of animal use not only in food production, but entertainment, pet ownership, medical research and clothing. Dogs are shown falling tired into death following a shot of sodium pentobarbitol, starving leather meander under a hot Indian sun, and dolphins convulse as blood pours from their throats. These images linger interconnectedly from one scene to the next. This powerful message won Earthlings Best Documentary Feature at the San Diego Film Festival, Best Content Award at the Boston International Film Festival, and won Joaquin Phoenix the Humanitarian award for his work. The methodology of Earthlings likely encourages a “copy-and-redistribute” following evident by the title of the official site,, and its full-length availability on Google Video. Although the film doesn’t make a specific call to a vegan diet, which I found surprising as Pheonix himself has been vegan since the age of three, its availability and dramatic impact have led many people to become vegan.

Earthlings questions the very institution and conventional wisdom that drives us to consume animals. It shows the great need to end the prevalent speciesism in society today. Although not particularly radical, for the campaign of “why to do” rather than “how to do,” the film is a powerful tool for driving home the message of animal rights. I highly recommend Earthlings for showing in colleges and high school classes, or for directing family and friends to watch online.

« Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights

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