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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
The title character of EO — a shocking and tender tour de force about life, love, death, and the wretched disregard human beings hold toward other living creatures — stands roughly four feet tall. He has large ears, knobby knees, a softly rounded belly, and dark, soft eyes that see the world in blunt terms. He is gentle, observant, generally quiet, and can run with surprising speed, which he does when his uneventful life takes a turn for the disastrous. His needs are basic, his life humble. He’s a faithful friend and a dutiful worker. He’s also a donkey.
EO is an astonishment and so too is this wild, boldly expressionistic movie that conveys the life of its largely silent protagonist with a bare minimum of dialogue. At this point, I should reassure you that EO doesn’t talk — he’s an animal, not a cartoon — though the few people in his life sometimes speak and yell and whisper, including to him. You understand their words and obviously so does EO, who will bob his head as if in answer.
EO has a streamlined story that, in its basic outline, adheres to the hero’s journey only to deviate drastically from that template. In short, EO sets off on an adventure, enters a realm of near-supernatural wonder, encounters fabulous and less so forces, experiences challenges and temptations. His journey is strange, absurd, exhilarating, and terrifying.
It begins in a circus and ends in the abyss. In between, EO journeys from Poland to Italy through woods and streams, down underground passages and across city squares, encountering a range of people, some kind, others monstrous. He also comes across a menagerie of other creatures, including a slithering toad, a watchful owl and a soulfully howling wolf in a dreamy nocturnal scene that turns into a nightmare when unseen hunters begin shooting. At another point, while he’s being transported by truck, EO watches a herd of majestic horse’s gallop across a field. As you may have guessed, EO’s life, alas, is not one of freedom and kindness, even if the movie overflows with both. Life is brutal for animals.