Bernd Heinrich on Penguins

Vermont naturalist and prolific writer Bernd Heinrich, who knows a thing or two about birds and cold weather among other things, loved “March of the Penguins”.

“As the movie continues, everything about these animals seems on the surface utterly different from human existence; and yet at the same time the closer one looks the more everything also seems familiar. Stepping back and viewing from the context of the vast diversity of millions of other organisms that evolved on the tree of life – grass, trees, tapeworms, hornets, jellyfish, tuna, green anoles and elephants – these animals marching across the screen are practically kissing cousins to us. Like many others who loved the movie, I admired the heroics of both the birds themselves and the intrepid camera crew that braved the inhumanly hostile environments of the Antarctic. But as a research biologist who has spent half a century studying the behavior and cognition of animals other than ourselves, I also admired the boldness of the filmmaker, Luc Jacquet, to face down the demon, if not the taboo, of anthropomorphizing his subjects”.

He believes that, rather than potraying the birds as little humans, it reminds us what we share with other creatures.

“….the new breed of nature film will become increasingly mainstream because, as we learn more about ourselves from other animals and find out that we are more like them than supposed, we are now allowed to “relate” to them, and therefore to empathize”.

And he contrasts thhis with ourculture’s former anthropomorphism:

“Paradoxically, the cartoonish anthropomorphism of “Bambi,” although it entertained the youngsters, blocked rather than promoted an understanding of animals. In “Bambi” we do not see other creatures. Instead, we are presented humans with antlers, and with our thought and speech”.

I may have to see this movie after all!

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