Sometimes a film comes along that’s so unexpected and emotionally affecting that you simply can’t look away from it. In 2023, that film is EO, a haunting, surreal, beautiful, cruel, dreamlike, sobering watch. And it’s a film you won’t forget.
Taken away forcibly from his owner, EO, a bereaved donkey, treads a rough path attempting to survive in a world beyond his knowledge.
From a supreme talent of Polish filmmaking, Jerzy Skolimowski, the now 85-year-old maestro, brings an incredibly poignant story of a docile and delightful donkey named EO who, through misfortune, finds himself in a world he cannot understand and comes to have various interactions with humanity that will make you question its very morality. As a key founder of the Polish New Wave, Skolimowski has repeatedly proven that he is an intriguing voice, and since the 1970s, he has been a dominant voice in world cinema. With EO he offers up a poignant story that examines man’s relationship to nature, as viewed by nature itself. There is good and bad, and the context and juxtaposition of the story and it’s movements shows an absurdity to the actions. And poor EO is stuck in the middle of all of it.
EO is a film where imagery and sound congeal together, and Skolimowski’s partnership with noted composer Paweł Mykietyn and the two artists collaboration is key to EO’s impact on the audience. Skolimowski and cinematographer Michał Dymek showcase the film from EO’s perspective and in the film’s interlocking series of vignettes, and this, paired with Mykietyn’s emotionally riveting score, adds to the totality of feeling that EO has on its audience. From watching this film, you feel Skolimowski’s passion for animal rights and a desire to serve the ecology of our world, and while not presented as judgemental, he does scorn the very base instinct of humanity. The central character of this brave little donkey will latch onto your soul, and his movement through a world and life he never new nor never wished for will have a deep impact on audiences.
EO is an incredibly emotional watch, and with its jarring narrative, it is an incredibly hard film to watch. It’s a tale told from the point of view of a ‘beats of burden’, and its hard watch makes you only wish for freedom and life for the beautiful and tranquil EO. Skolimowski does not spare his contempt for humanity and its actions and the consequences that they have on the natural world. It’s ultimately the character of EO that truly makes a mark on the audience. He’s a gentle and observant creature with large ears, knobby knees, a softly rounded belly and dark, soft eyes, and this loving little donkey will leave his mark on your soul.
Overall I found EO to be a film that charted both a line of beauty and savagery at the same time, and its ending is sudden and hits you like a truck. EO is not a comfortable watch, and it exposes a harsh and at times, horrible humanity that this brave little donkey must contend with. But even still there are moments of pure tenderness, and I would hope that audiences hold onto this. Through EO’s life, we see the complex, frayed and at times awful shades of humanity. Skolimowski’s commentary on the human experience as seen through the eyes of EO makes this a fascinating, if not haunting, watch. And you will not be able to hold back the tears as the credits roll.