Runtime: 97 minutes
Director: Andrea Arnold
By Morgan Roberts
When I was about five years old, I was taken to a dairy farm. As a kid growing in the city, my only knowledge of the outdoors existed within the confines of Griffith Park. At the farm, they had each kid take turns milking a cow. When it was my turn, I remember being hit immediately with a foul odor. 25 years later, I still remember the feeling of holding the cows udder in my tiny hand and squeezing. I remember how delicate that udder felt and how worried I was that I would hurt the cow. After squeezing hard enough to produce milk, I burst into tears. I rarely think about that moment anymore. After spending my college years in Kansas, that moment in the mid-90’s didn’t mean much anymore.
That is until I saw Andrea Arnold‘s documentary film “Cow.” Over a four year span, Arnold followed a dairy cow, Luma, in her normal day-to-day. The documentary isn’t about the dairy industry or animal cruelty or farming. It is simply an attempt to examine the life of a cow. Arnold gives us an intimate look at Luma’s life. The film starts with Luma giving birth to her latest calf.
We follow Luma as she is milked or allowed to enjoy the fresh air in the pasture or as she ages into a more stubborn create. What the film does is keep a neutral stance. We follow Luma, and at times her calf, and nothing else. The humans throughout the film are more accessories to the story. We seem them go throughout their days’ work and we only see them when they interact with Luma.
To assist with Arnold’s message, or more gaze, is cinematographer Magda Kowalczyk. Kowalczyk helps set the tone and keep us intrigued with Luma’s journey. The camera work is close and personal. This pairing allows for audiences to take what they want from the film. You can simply take it as an examination of dairy farming from the perspective of the cow, or, like many do with animals, you can project human feelings onto Luma as you gaze into her big, round eyes.
At the end of the day, Arnold leaves what you take from this film in your own hands. And while the pacing may be slow as the days and weeks blend together for Luma, the ending will surely hit you like a ton of bricks. Arnold’s foray into documentary filmmaking is certain to leave an impact. Her vision is both methodical in absence of objective and in focused intrigue as events slowly unfold to the haunting conclusion. Regardless of your personal takes, one universal element all audience members can leave with is a keen eye for observation of those, including animals, around you.