3 Stars — Troubling

There are more attacks by wild animals in the United States than in Africa. That fact expressed by an emergency room physician in Ohio reflects the concern of the documentary The Elephant in the Living Room.

Directed by Michael Webber, the film exposes a deadly subculture within our nation that keeps the world’s most dangerous snakes and animals as household pets. Rather than keeping their distance as the Africans do, these Americans invite lions, vipers, bears and pythons into their homes.

With no commentary on their decisions and lifestyles, the film focuses on two exemplars of this situation. The first is a man, Terry Brumfield, who was trapped by depression after an accident with his 18-wheeler left him in continuous pain. Given a small lion cub as a pet, he pours his heart and hope into this lioness and soon adds a male lion to their shared life. As they grow to full size, the difficulties in their care become as overwhelming as his depression.

The other man is Tim Harrison. He is a public safety officer whose responsibility is to deal with dangerous animals in his region. As he crosses paths with people who have lost their infants and wives to pythons, grade-school children playing with the most deadly of vipers, a co-worker killed by his own venomous snake and Terry whose lions have escaped and terrorized the neighborhood, he laments that there is no law against owning such creatures as pets.

Taking us on a journey through this underground world where people are buying and selling exotic animals, with fathers buying the most deadly snakes in plastic bins for their children, it is clear that humans are fascinated with danger and invite it into their homes and our neighborhoods. The Elephant in the Living Room simply presents this reality in fascinating detail.

With a slow pace that lets the truth of the situation sink in, the film is a powerful medium for understanding and change. That we need to talk about this is obvious. That we avoid the subject is the meaning of the title and the message of the film.


» Have you ever known a person with a dangerous animal or reptile as a pet? If you have, what were they like? Why do you think they have chosen to own a dangerous dog, lion, snake or cat?

» The woman who owns the tiger explains that she came to the United States to get away from a totalitarian government and find freedom, yet she equates freedom with her right to own a tiger. Do you believe that is what is meant by freedom? Why?

» The fact that pythons are not native to the Everglades but are now prolific throughout Florida explains another part of the problem as these wild animals cannot be kept in captivity and are often released. If the same thing occurs with vipers in the Midwest, or lions in the Rockies, or bears in the northeast, then the safety of our nation would change. What do you think should be done?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.