Here’s Werner Herzog in his element. With the eloquent, unintrusive storytelling reminiscent of a standard David Attenborough documentary and the poignancy of Laurence Olivier’s “Remember” at the end of The World At War, he examines the life and tragic death of Timothy Treadwell, the man who was determined to become a bear, a venture that ends up coming off as ironically human.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if you woke up to a reality that was a never-ending and preferably less depressing episode of BoJack Horseman? What if you and your pet chiwawa could verbally share your deepest, darkest secrets or have your own inside jokes to giggle to? Wouldn’t Monday nights be so much better if you could live-tweet an episode of Nairobi Diaries featuring an argument escalating to kicks and blows between Vera Sidika and a co-star that just happens to be a donkey?
Of course, as things stand now, there is an invisible line keeping humans and beasts apart. Human beings simply do things differently, right? We are self-conscious, we can communicate in the most complex ways, we can make sophisticated tools, we’ve built amazing structures that defy nature itself and constantly find ways to make our lives more and more comfortable. The interesting thing is how we believe all that somehow makes us better or special. That humane is the highest aspirational quality for all living things.
A keener observation reveals that this invisible line is thinner than we would like to admit. Do we not see a hazy image of ourselves in animals that eat their young, or birds that get other species to incubate their eggs, or the Unilateralis cordyceps, a fungus that invades insects’ brains and drives them around like zombies?
Is there a species more adept at killing for food and fun than humans? We are choking the life out of this planet with literal bull farts and bull shit, all for that quarter pounder cheese burger. Is reason a help or a hindrance when it makes perfect sense to slaughter millions of human beings in the name of patriotism, politics, profit, religion or any other convenient synonym for pure, unrestricted fun?
“Flies know how to fly without being taught. Spiders know how to spin webs without being taught. Why is that? Here’s what I think: Flies and spiders are simply following an order. I believe all lives on Earth have received orders of some kind. Don’t humans have any directive? When I took over this human’s brain, I received a directive. It said, Devour this species.”_ Parasyte: The Maxim, Episode 4.
Other living things would probably laugh at us if we were able communicate to them our theories on the whats and whys of the universe and our place in it. They would probably also admire and pity in equal measure our other unique quality apart from existential inquisitiveness – our stubborn belief that we can be better versions of our present selves.
The day in the very distant future when we’ll finally be able to fully transcribe grunts, roars, neighs, barks, chirps, clucks , howls etc. and be able to “talk” back; the day a Venus flytrap will be able to give us an exclusive tell-all interview, I fear we may find out that this world is far harsher and crueler beyond anything we have ever imagined. We may find out that we don’t have a prime directive in this universe, that whatever little control we think we have is just an illusion to prevent the sort of chaos that would threaten the fleeting beauty of the unique occurrence of life in this pale blue dot enveloped by cosmic darkness.