Adorable cub foxes nom down on precious baby ducks. Then an elephant comes and stomps on them.
Two white wolves trot briskly through a vast landscape that swallows them in the slow tracking helicopter shot.
Narrator: These endangered wolves have a difficult task. They can hunt for days without any sight of prey.
The wolves are tiny, like little escitalopram tablets lost in rumpled bed covers.
Up ahead, there are tons of caribou, scattered like rice, clogging up the hills.
We cut back to the wolves, nails clicking across an infinite ice cube tray.
More shots of caribou. There is a shitload of caribou.
The wolves are lost in a vast incomprehensible nothing, like specks on a whiteboard that might not even be there, like there’s something wrong with your eyes.
Meanwhile, elsewhere: too much caribou.
Another helicopter shot of the wolves, circling, circling. This time, we can even see the shadow of the helicopter on the ground. How close are we going to get? Even the wolves see us, now.
The next shot is of the wolves riding in the helicopter, their heads out the window, tongues lolling, fur waving, golden eyes looking all around. They howl with delight.
Then in the next shot, a wolf runs down a caribou. Wolves are everywhere now, shaving off the slow trailing parts of the herd, like someone rounding off, slicing off the outlyers on a graph.
The narrator explains this intervention: it is more of a lie to pretend that we are not here, not part of, but somehow separate from nature; that we are somehow behind a fourth wall, as though we ourselves were not inhabitants of the Earth with a helicopter.
Besides, says the narrator, I am God.
The vast city of an anthill explodes in slow motion, millions of ant citizens tumbling end over end.
Another shot of a vast apocalyptic plume annihilating the hill. We see ants trying to hold onto precious eggs, flying through oblivion.
A close-up of the explosion: it looks like Mount St. Helens. Only as the shockwave clears, we can see its cause: a Timberland clad boot.
The narrator looks down upon us and smiles. We notice that he is holding a gun. What kind of documentary is this?
It is night now. The elephant’s eyes, the narrator tells us, are not better than our own. However, the camera’s eyes are like the cats. The cats see the elephants clearly.
A large adult elephant charges at the pride: I can’t see you, but I am fucking huge.
The cats would like a tasty baby elephant. They scoot in, casually, like they were looking for a day care center for their cubs. The elephants encircle their young, kicking dust. They create an impenetrable grey wall. An iron fucking wall, says the narrator.
The elephant’s eyes are like our own, but we see what the lions see, like Jason in the Friday the 13th movies.
The cats have found a smaller, isolated elephant they can take down.
The pride is thirty strong. Soon the young elephant is running.
One cat keeps getting on the back of the elephant and holding on, clearly wondering why the rest of the pride isn’t helping. It’s like a Far Side cartoon.
But there are too many of them. The force of narrative will bring the young elephant down.
We cut to the rest of the elephants, standing around, looking at the young elephant’s yearbook, silent. Lightning.
The narrator describes the cruel, erotic beauty of the pitcher plant. Cruel, erotic? Those are his words, said with a cultured accent that indicates no disapproval. He describes the oral licking ministrations of the insects to the pitcher plant in somewhat overly precise, salacious language. In turn, each insect loses its grip on the “smooth, sweaty, veiny lips of the pitcher, sliding to the pungent abyss within.”
We watch an ant drown. Then a grasshopper. A few more insects, rather more than would seem necessary for educational purposes. The narrator keeps calling these, the “unfortunate lovers of the pitcher plant.” He continues, describing how their putrefaction in the pitcher plant’s “womb” feeds it. We see extensive underwater shots of the pitcher plant’s “dungeon womb.” Her “victims” hang upside down, suspended, rotting.
We then cut to a parallel shot of luminous bodies in an amber liquid. The tinkling we hear cues us that it is ice in a glass. We see the narrator sitting in an expensive leather chair. We see him surrounded by pitcher plants. He is in a high-end clothing boutique. A skinny girl half his age is trying on new clothes, to his obvious pleasure. Issues of National Geographic and Yacht Slave lay scattered about with leftover streaks of cocaine on them.
We are in a jungle canopy. A tribe of monkeys has isolated and corned a young member of a rival tribe. They run him down.
The monkeys dismember and feast on the body. Most of the body is hidden by blood stained leaves, but sometimes the victuals picked out are all-too discernable –fingers are sucked on, the ripped skin of the face and a scalp is contemplated like a Halloween mask. The filmmaker plays the atrocity theme from Cannibal Holocaust. The monkeys then blow each other. The receiving monkey snowballs the other.
We cut to the monkeys in the back of a speeding sports car. We are in Vegas with the narrator. He takes the monkeys to the casinos, to the buffet and shows. This is not a problem, as this is Vegas. The narrator has a really nice suite, the kind that looks like Mike Tyson’s private jet, only bigger and with more nudes that shoot Kahlua from disgraceful parts of their bodies.
The monkeys are in the master bedroom, jumping and defecating on the bed. They seem to be encouraged off camera. It’s like Girls Gone Wild. A figure enters the shot. It is the narrator. He blows a white powder up the monkeys’ noses. This seems to drive them insane. The narrator puts some hardcore pornography on the HD wall screen, which spills across the bed.
We are in a basement somewhere. The monkeys look bad. They are strapped to tiny kid’s chairs. The narrator is reading something in a cracked slurred voice. It’s La Philsophie dans le Boudoir. We see he has something in his other hand. It is a buzz saw.
We cut to a shot of the narrator in sunglasses, on the deck of a speedboat, his head flying above the spray. We hear his voice over.
I am not cruel. I am not kind. I am not generous. I am lavish. I am not excessive, but I am everywhere excess. I am erotic. I am the only god there has ever been, the god of necessity.
From this momentary lapse into something, we return to the great white orthodoxy of nature documentaries, the shark.
We think of the shark as a killing machine. Yet sharks exhibit many social traits. They are curious. They have complex groups. They are like us.
However, the shots we see of the sharks are of them rolling in a sea of red and white, churned by fins, gliding past severed chunks of monkey.
Less than three hundred years ago, less than a blink in the history of the earth, men used other men much as they use stock animals today.
At this point, it seems as though the documentary has become unhinged in time as well, as we see the rigging of an old sailing ship. We circle around it in a helicopter, as we did the wolves. The treatment of the rigger is curious: we scrutinize it as though examining an intricate web or anthill.
Nature is intolerant of any excess.
Black bodies, still in chains, fall overboard. This happens at some distance with some detachment, so at first it is hard to tell what is happening.
But in nature, nothing is wasted.
Sharks swim among the struggling slaves, devouring them. It is not clear if these are supposed to be the same sharks.
We cut back to the narrator on the boat. We see the crew of the documentary. The narrator is not miked. He is gesticulating and smiling. The crew seems to be arguing with him. The narrator starts taking off his clothes. We can make out his words before he jumps off: “I’m going to rape a fucking shark.”
After the credits, we realize we probably should have sent the children to bed sooner.
At the bottom of the screen, numbers come up. Then we are back in the studio of our local PBS affiliate. Our local PBS personality is there. We’ve seen them since we were children. We’ve lived here all our lives. The narrator from the documentary is there, too. He seems different on the studio cameras, but is still somewhat larger than life. He looks older, like he just got off a plane. He says very little, other than the importance of quality programming.
We understand. We have seen all he has shown us. We know our role in the cosmos. We know that even our knowledge is something we do in it. We grasp our responsibility. We pick up the phone. We hug our children and nuzzle their brows as we saw the mother foxes do. We try, try and be better human beings.