Did you know that you can go to a creepy warehouse in rural Pennsylvania and buy a baby gaboon viper just chilling in a Tupperware like some fucking leftover mashed potatoes? And then you can take it home and put a tiny top hat on it and keep it in a paper bag next to your baby's pillow and name it Countess Gabrielle? Did you also know that a gaboon viper has two-inch fangs and the highest venom yield of any poisonous snake (including Criss Angel: Mindfreak's penis!), and that it can control bees with its mind? And did you also know that if the sheriff drops in for some sweet tea and catches you giving your baby and Countess Gabrielle a bath together in the kitchen sink, he is legally obligated to give you a high five and an Applebee's gift certificate because NONE OF THAT SHIT IS ILLEGAL!? True. All true.
So, I have cable, but I only use like two channels: Lifetime, to watch Lifetime Original Movies (most recently The 19th Wife: Polygamy Can Be Murder!!!), and Animal Planet, to watch shows about animals biting stupid people on the face. The best one of those—obviously—is called Fatal Attractions and is about people with emotional problems who think wild animals are their best friends. (If you have not seen the episode where the old farmer dude modifies his car so that his "pet" buffalo can RIDE IN THE PASSENGER SEAT LIKE A HUMAN, I will personally let all you creeps come over and watch it at my apartment. This shit is important.)
That's why The Elephant in the Living Room (opening April 29) is my jam. A documentary about America's thriving exotic-pet subculture, Elephant keeps its feet firmly and patiently planted in the OH-MY-GOD-PEOPLE-GET-A-GRIP camp, without losing sight of its subjects' humanity. Because both sides will break your heart—the pair of African lions confined to a 100-square-foot horse trailer in Ohio are only a little bit sadder than the good-hearted old man who considers the cats his family and knows he's failing them. (Not as palatable: the bottle-blond Czech woman who complains, "I left the communism because there was not enough freedom, and right now I'm in USA and I am still fighting for my freedoms," because local authorities want to take away the white tiger that lives in her backyard. Oh, the oppression.)
Anchoring the film is Tim Harrison, an Ohio public-safety officer doggedly trying to keep people safe from exotic animals and vice versa ("Am I a hero or am I the villain?" he wonders, tasked with catching and killing an escaped pet cougar). "People in Africa don't keep cobras in their house," says a local doctor who works with Harrison. "They don't keep lions and leopards in their yard... we see them as safe, cuddly, nice, friendly animals. As opposed to the people in Africa—they see it as somethin' that's gonna eat your face! Literally!" LITERALLY, YOU GUYS. LITERALLY.