A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Animals are portrayed as showing relatable behavior, such as tenderness, toward each other, maternal instincts, and mourning. All of which encourage empathy toward them. The film increases viewers' awareness of the realities of some forms of dairy farming that may lead to further exploration and education.
Positive Role Models
Farmers maintain the physical health of the cows and show a relationship by naming them and using gentle language toward them, though this sometimes feels at odds with the physical processes they put them through. The cows in the film have little freedom and independence, but show care and moments of tenderness toward each other.
The majority of the film is focused on the cows rather than humans. Farmers in the background include both male and female, though are exclusively White.
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Violence & Scariness
A cow is killed on-screen by being shot in the head. Calves have their horn-producing tissue burned off while conscious (though with some painkillers). Also kicking of legs, eyes rolling back in head, and heavy breathing. Calves have their ears punctured with large tags. Birth of calves is shown in close-up, with them pulled out via ropes around the legs. Female cows are seen with birth sacks still hanging from them and attached to milking machines. Invasive health checks and injections are also shown. Distressing scenes involve separation of mother and calf.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A cow and bull are placed in a pen together and intercourse is implied.
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Language is brief but includes "f--k."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Cows are injected with painkillers and hormones.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Cow is an impactful documentary about the life of a dairy cow on an English farm, and involves scenes of animals in distress. Cows and calves are shown having intimate medical procedures, and there are close-ups of the animals giving birth. One cow is shot in the head on-screen, resulting in its death. There is very little dialogue, other than farmers guiding cows and having brief conversations about them, though there is an incident of the word "f--k." Though the film depicts what happens on a daily basis on dairy farms across the country, the reality of their treatment -- shown from the cow's point of view -- will likely be distressing for some viewers. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Oscar-winning director Andrea Arnold takes an unflinching and highly emotive look at the life of a dairy cow. Filmed from a cows'-eye view -- the camera often placed literally at this level -- Cow forgoes explanatory voice-overs, confident that the documentary footage itself is enough to portray the experience without moralizing or dramatizing. It is incredibly powerful stuff that's going to be hard to watch for most, no matter their views on dairy consumption. Which slightly begs the question, who is this for? There will be those who already understand this as truth and have opted out of dairy consumption, others who accept it as a fact of life and a necessary means to an end, and those who wish to look the other way. In which case, it seems unlikely they'd choose to sit through a 90-minute documentary that refuses to let them do so. The film invites viewers to look not only at the cows' experience, but directly into their big round eyes. And the cows are looking straight back.
Among the distressing scenes of overly full udders and isolated calves, tender interludes can be found as cows gently lick each other and nuzzle heads, or rush to the help of another's baby. Moments of relief also make an impact, such as when the cows are given space to roam in a field, clumsily jumping with joy at their freedom and gazing peacefully out at the stars. Each viewer will no doubt watch the film within the framework of their own beliefs. But while Arnold never anthropomorphizes Luma, it's difficult not to attribute feelings to her experience and to feel some emotion in return.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.