Saturday, September 25, 2004

The Story of the Weeping Camel

I went to see “The Story of the Weeping Camel” recently since I had heard so many good things about it. I found it everything it was purported to be. While I hope you, dear reader, will like it too if you go see it, I'm realistic enough to know you may not if your tastes in film run to “Freddie Got Fingered” or films with Adam Sandler in them.

“The Story of the Weeping Camel” is a documentary film made in deepest Mongolia. It portrays the lives of a band of nomadic people living in tents, who eke out a living in the harshest of environments, flat and arid, with frequent howling windstorms which would blow away the tents if their occupants didn’t affix them very firmly to the ground. Central to the people being able to cope with everyday life, is having camels to transport them around and generally to act as beasts of burden. Mongolian camels are, incidentally, with their thick shaggy coats, a different species from their counterparts in the middle-east and elsewhere.

The film shows the camels giving birth and caring for their young (called colts). But there is one camel, a female, who had a particularly difficult time giving birth to its colt. So much so that she wants nothing further to do with it once it emerges into the world. The family responsible for the colt does get it to drink milk from a bottle, but this is an inadequate substitute for the real thing. So the family tries to get it to suck from the teat of its mother who always kicks it away. What to do?

They call in a man who has successfully dealt with situations such as this. He does it by playing a long stringed violin-like instrument which camels respond to. We see him playing it, accompanied by chants from the other tent-dwellers who also pat and caress the mother camel. For some time she looks nonplussed. Then tears begin to well up and fall from her eyes. The music is obviously making her sad, and she is weeping. Then we see the colt being led to its mother who now accepts it and allows it to suck from her teat.

So we see that animals, like camels, do have emotions, can feel sad and remorseful, and can cry – just like humans. The film is worth seeing for this alone.

It is assumed by most who see this film that the tears of the camel are simply a cinematic prestidigitation. But no, this is a documentary and the tears are real. Which makes me wonder why, if animals have feelings just like ours, we slaughter billions of them every year under the most frightful conditions just so we can enjoy those juicy half-pound hamburgers with all the works.

“The Story of the Weeping Camel” also brings to our attention that there are countless millions of people throughout the world, like the Mongolians in the film, who live in primitive conditions far, far removed from ours in the “developed” world with our electricity, indoor plumbing, laptop computers, credit cards, cushy jobs, social security, and the other privileges and comforts we take for granted. However, should terrorists cause our electricity to fail, and our banks, computers, and economies to crash, who will be better equipped to survive? We, or the Mongolian tent dwellers?

I also noted how appealing and happy the Mongolian children appeared to be, and how much they seemed to be loved by their multi-generational families – children far different from so many of their slack-jawed, foul-mouthed, ill-mannered, drug-addled, counterparts in all the suburbs and malls here in North America.