EO goes into the woods one night after a visit from a drunkenly exuberant Kasandra, who has come to wish him a happy birthday at another farm where he now lives. “May all your dreams come true,” she says to EO, who is alone in an outdoor paddock. She gives him a carrot muffin and (cruelly) urges him to “be happy”, but soon leaves. As the camera holds EO in medium close-up, he makes a snorting sound and a deep bark of horns fills the soundtrack, as if announcing a change in tone. Within seconds, he runs down a road and nearly crashes into a car (he blows another horn), only to enter a phantasmagoric forest interlude.
The Projectorist Chronicles a new awards season
The Oscars aren’t until March, but the campaigns have begun. Kyle Buchanan reports on the films, personalities and events along the way.
This sprint from farm to road and forest marks a critical passage for EO, a crossing from culture to nature. Until this section, EO was always in the company of people who controlled every aspect of his existence. They feed and lead him, rein and bind him, caress him but also pull his reins and threaten him with a bill of exchange. His handling is as varied as the people he encounters, but whether guided with soft or rough hands, he is always controlled in one way or another. But as EO plunges unbridled into the world of wildlife, he’s real for the first and only time in the movie free.
As the camera pans with EO, the jingling staccato tones of the score echoing his gentle thumping, the donkey travels to a new and otherworldly realm. The dark forest is alternately seductive and menacing, filled with eerie beauty and reminiscent of other stories that begin with once. Immediately after EO walks into the woods, there’s a close-up of a frog moving downstream in a shimmering river, which is followed by another shot of a fat spider scurrying up an invisible thread. (The digital cinematography reveals every crystalline detail.) In the next shot, the spider is now near a web, a humble but critical indication of animal sovereignty.
“EO” was inspired by Robert Bresson’s 1966 drama “Au Hasard Balthazar,” about the life and travails of a donkey and the only film Skolimowski says made him cry. However, the otherworldly, fairytale character of EO’s sojourn in the woods mirrors a sequence in another masterpiece, “The Night of the Hunter” (1955), Charles Laughton’s darkly surreal drama about a murderous preacher who hunts two small children. In a long, pivotal sequence in that film, the children escape the Preacher via the river on a rowboat that takes them through a dreamlike landscape populated by some of the same species EO encounters.
This allusion to “The Night of the Hunter” can be seen as a tribute to the movie, as one great filmmaker nodding to another. I think it also speaks to Skolimowski’s toughness in “EO,” his lack of sentimentality, and the fact that his donkey is ultimately very different from Balthazar, a creature Bresson described as “utterly sacred and happens to be an ass.” There’s no “and” with EO, who is just and always an ass and very much in – and of – this world, a world that’s filled with mystery, yes, but also brutal reality. It is not for nothing that at a certain point in the forest EO passes some old tombstones with inscriptions in Hebrew, a vision that evokes all the Polish Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, including in forests like this.