Wednesday, we were in a bookstore, and they also had a display rack with DVDs and BluRays. One of them was a copy of De Nieuwe Wildernis on BluRay. It was reasonably priced, I read good things about it, so I picked it up on a whim.
It’s a feature-length nature documentary about the Oostvaardersplassen, a nature preserve in reclaimed land. Tucked in between Lelystad and Almere, it’s 70 square kilometer of marshes and grasslands. Deer, wild bovines and wild horses have been released there, and it’s a favourite spot for many geese and foxes. There is no active stewardship: nature is left to run its course — hence the title “the new wilds”.
One of the scenes shows a doe in winter, who is not going to make it. She lies down to die, and the movie shows a close-up shot of her eyes as she dies. Then there’s a timelapse of the close-up, and you see the moon rising in the reflection of the eye, and then the eye freezes over.
That was very, very moving to see. Which made us think: why is this so moving to us?
A philosopher friend of ours once pointed out that we tend to project ourselves into animals, and attribute emotions and thoughts when there are none. An important factor was whether the animal had a face that we could recognise and (try to) read. Almost all of our pets are predators, who have their eyes looking to the front, like we. That gives them a face similar to ours, which makes it easier for us to project a personality into the animal. Herbivores, like horses and cows, have their eyes on either side of their elongated heads, making it harder for us to identify with them, and we don’t ascribe as rich personalities to them as we do to our predator pets.
But if you zoom in on only the eye, then that’s all you see. That makes it easier to project a personality, or at least an emotion, to the deer — in the ‘making of’ documentary, one of the cameramen remarks that they chose to emphasize the eyes of the animals, to show ‘the soul of the animal’. In other words, so that we humans could more easily identify with the animal.
And that was why it was so moving to see that doe die: to see the life leaving her eye and it then freezing over.
I know that’s how it works, but it was still an emotional moment in the movie. I guess it’s hard-wired into us.