CAPSULE: In one room what could be essentially a stage play unfolds when a vegan and a meat-eater have an ever-more hostile argument over the moral issues of whether eating meat is justifiable. Eric Shapiro (who writes and directs) gives most of the cogent arguments to the pro-vegan side. Shapiro does not seem quite ready to trust his audience to reach their own conclusions. Still, a good argument back and forth makes for compelling viewing. Actor Ben Siegler at least has a magnetic presence. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
I like a good film of argument. One of my favorite films is INHERIT THE WIND (1960), which builds to the historic debate between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryon. But I want the filmmaker to play fair. I want to be presented with the best arguments of both sides and I do not want the filmmaker to be giving me little hints as to which side is in the right. The film A FEW GOOD MEN (1992) pits a clean-cut Tom Cruise against a cigar- smoking, male chauvinist Jack Nicholson. Even before Nicholson gets a chance to present his viewpoint director Rob Reiner has told me whose side I should agree with. Writer/director Eric Shapiro is not quite so blatant, but not a whole lot less. When we first see carnivore Leo (played by Ben Siegler) he already has been offensive the last time he saw his son's wife Rhona (Rhoda Jordan). Mild tension starts right away. What was intended to be a pleasant dinner with Rhona, her husband Stephen (never seen), and her father-in-law Leo becomes more and more a mean-spirited extended exchange as the story progresses.
Rhona teaches yoga, reads Deepak Chopra, and has an open seemingly empathetic manner. When she says things like "we can shed positivity" and "all beings are one" she seems a little New Age- ish. Leo is a polar opposite, a frustrated and rage-filled man. He seems to see veganism as a conspiracy against him and will not allow himself to eat vegan even for only one meal. This is true in spite of his having had a recent heart attack that probably was contributed to by his unhealthy diet heavy with meat. The viewer is probably already thinking that Leo probably isn't rational on the subject of meat.
We are given character flaws for Leo where on balance we get more positive aspects of Rhona. Leo is fixed in his ways and candid to the point of being hurtful. Self-satisfied, he either holds a viewpoint or assumes that it is nonsense. He tells Rhona that he is very good at debating, but he in fact is not a listener. Shapiro adds little touches to make him more of a stereotypical right-winger. He denies climate change. Rhona and Leo each do negative things in the discussion, but Leo seems to have five faults for every one of Rhona's.
Another point I wondered about is how this rage-filled, insensitive man could easily have gone through the entire story and not have his religion mentioned. I believe there are angry Lutherans out there someplace, but I do not think it would have worked for the story to have made Leo an infuriated Lutheran. Instead, Shapiro tells us this physically dangerous man is a Jew. While his viewpoints seem to have nothing to do with the teachings of Judaism, Shapiro feels it necessary to bring in Leo as a Jew. Somehow Shapiro finds that the acceptable choice.
There probably is not much of the controversy in LIVING THINGS that one could not find by looking for "reasons to be Vegan" on the Internet. But part of what makes the film work is a strong performance by Ben Siegler. His performance is really the core of this film. I would rate LIVING THINGS a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. LIVING THINGS was released on DVD April 15 and will be released to VOD on May 15.
[In the interest of full disclosure this is my position. I eat meat and feel that I have evolved from meat eaters (and I have canine teeth to prove it) and that humans like dogs can eat meat with a clear conscience. This I feel gives me the right to be a meat-eater. Nonetheless, I also think that most of the best moral arguments are on the side of vegetarians (including vegans). I would be morally and ethically better not to eat meat. I do not try to rationalize this behavior. That puts me somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between these two characters.]
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3511546/combined
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Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper