One More Scene: Death of a Giraffe

My favorite movie scenes seem to exist in a strange world of contradiction: I often watch movies to escape the overwhelming weight of reality, but then my favorite scenes almost always draw me into a greater sense of that same reality I am trying to escape. Sometimes that feeling is evoked artificially, even through fantastic means. Other times the weight of reality is presented plainly—no matter how difficult it is to sit through—through the documentation of an actual event. This last category of movie scenes contains some of the most deeply imprinted images in my mind.

One example of this is the slaughter of a giraffe in Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1983). At just over an hour into the film we briefly see a giraffe running through a lightly treed savanna. The camera then cuts back to a series of shots capturing the public mourning of a panda in Tokyo. The narrator explains that she sees in the eyes of the japanese children an attempt, “in order to understand the death of an animal, to stare through the partition” that separates life from death. The camera cuts to a character hidden under a large black cloak firing a pistol. The camera cuts again to the giraffe now falling violently to the ground as the sound of a gunshot echoes through our television speakers.

The giraffe stands up, drunken to its senses, and tries to run again before it slows down to a wobble. Then it comes a full stop near one of the blood colored trees. In this moment a second bullet strikes it through the neck.

The ensuing gore and fight for survival is nearly unbearable to watch—it feels comic-bookishly surreal and disorienting, but it is actually happening. Reality can in fact be more terrifying than the imagination. The shot continues with the ultimate death of the giraffe followed by a brief insertion of the mourning ceremony in Japan again. Marker then concludes the scene with vultures swooping down and feeding off the giraffe’s eye.

Due to the quality of this video, you cannot see the horrible amount of blood pouring from the giraffe’s neck…and that may be for the best.

Why there “should” there be more scenes like this?

In my opinion, and I hope there are always people who disagree with me, often revenge and violent death are among the most loved aspects in film (and I admit to loving them as well). By showing real violence and pain, directors might awaken their audiences senses to the responsibility humans have to other living creatures. I’m not saying animals or humans should be harmed in the making of a movie, but I am saying that, if applicable, including real footage like this can improve awareness for certain subjects. These scenes can cause us to question why we like violence in the first place.

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