Powerful documentary has upsetting content, brief language.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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What's the Story?
In COW, the life of dairy cow Luma is chronicled over a number of years. The film shows the cycle of multiple births and the farming of milk from the cow's point of view, acknowledging the realities of Luma's existence within the industry.
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.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how they felt after watching Cow. Did your views on dairy farming change? If so, how? Was it shocking to see how some of the animals were treated?
The movie used very little dialogue. What impact did that have on your experience as a viewer? Can you think of any other films that have used this technique?
Can you think of any other documentaries about aspects of the food industry? How did this compare?
- In theaters: April 8, 2022
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2022
- Cast: Lin Gallagher
- Director: Andrea Arnold
- Studio: IFC Films
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Horses and Farm Animals
- Character Strengths: Empathy
- Run time: 94 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: December 20, 2022
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