The Elephant in the Living Room

| September 26, 2011

Director Michael Webber delivers a crazy good film with The Elephant in the Living Room, emphasis on the crazy. The film explores a whole subculture of people, which the average viewer may not even be aware of; people who keep big, exotic, arguably dangerous animals as pets. From African lions to cougars to alligators to elephants to primates and giant snakes, the film looks at people all over the country who keep and love these animals right in their homes.
The film’s primary subject is Tim Harrison, who works for the Police and Fire department in Dayton, Ohio, and also heads an organization that attempts to find homes animal preserves for these animals who have been released by owners who could not take care of them. This is apparently a huge problem in Dayton, as Terry averages about 100 calls per year to go out and try to capture large wild animals. It’s difficult to get a read on Terry’s feelings about these issues. The complexity of the debate is mirrored very well in his character. He seems to support a person’s right to own these exotic pets, but he also recognizes that most people are not capable of caring for these animals, and that’s why he has devoted his adult life to supporting legislation restricting the public’s rights to keep these kinds of pets.
While the film takes a variety of quick looks at animal attacks and similar stories in the news across the country, the story remains primarily focused on Terry, an Ohio resident who owns two adult African lions, Lambert and Lacey. Early in the film, we hear a 911 call from a woman reporting a Lion (Lambert) who was chasing cars on the freeway. As a result, Terry was forced to keep Lambert and Lacey in a tiny horse trailer in his back yard, threatened with federal prison time if he didn’t comply. In the special features, they reveal that there is no law that they could have convicted Terry under, but they threatened him to scare him into compliance.
The relationship between Terry and his lions is the real treat of this film. It is absolutely fascinating to watch. It’s clear right from the beginning that Terry loves these animals. He raised them from cubs and to see how emotionally attached he is to Lambert and Lacey makes for a lot of heartfelt moments. Seeing this family develop and seeing Terry and Tim start to work together to get these lions into a more acceptable cage is truly amazing to watch.
The aforementioned news clips show how the media perceives the presence of these animals in our everyday lives. They depict a lot of fear and confusion in the public, and yes, a cougar sighting in the middle of a populated area is something to be concerned about, but the thesis of the film seems to be that with an appropriate amount of respect for these animals, that they can be loyal and loving companions; as long as those who aspire to own a lion never forget that they are big and powerful and have predatory instincts that need to be treated with caution.
From start to finish, the film is emotional and completely absurd. Tim has a nobility to his character that plays well with Terry’s infinite likeability and their relationship with each other and these lions makes for a powerfully unique movie experience. This is hands down a must-see film, which can be enjoyed by absolutely anybody.
Special features include an hour-long featurette where Michael Webber, Tim, and one of Tim’s colleagues, Russ, sit around a campfire answering some frequently asked questions. It gives a lot of insight into the events of the film, and what happened in the months after the film was completed. There are also some deleted scenes and a feature length commentary by Michael Webber.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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