Schweitzer’s Prayer for Animals
Who Are Suffering
Hear our prayer . . .
for the animals that are overworked,
underfed, and cruelly treated;
for all wistful creatures in captivity
that beat their wings against bars;
for any that are hunted or lost,
deserted, frightened; hungry;
for all that are put to death . . .
And for those who deal with them
we ask a heart of compassion
And gentle hands and kindly words.
- from Peace to All Beings by Judy Carman

There are more than 40 million donkeys in the world, with large numbers of them in Ethiopia, China, Pakistan, and Mexico. Donkeys have been working animals for more than 5,000 years and today, mostly they are used as pack animals or for draught work in transport or agriculture. Lately, in western countries, they have become popular for childrens’ rides, sidekicks in animated movies, and sometimes, as in EO a conduit for conveying both the kindness and the cruelty in human nature.

EO, a grey donkey, is the star of an 86-minute feature film which won this year’s Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Best International Feature at the Academy Awards. Veteran Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski got the idea to make a donkey the focus of his film when he saw the large amount of emotion in EO’s eyes. It is through those eyes that we see the world – and a dark and beautiful world it is.

EO with Kasandra

As the film opens, EO is performing in a circus with Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) who lavishes love upon him. Even when they are separated, the red of her dress seems to remind him of happier times. And mid-film, when she finds him and gives him the affection he’s been missing, she still leaves. EO trots off after her, but that companionship is short lived.

Mostly, EO is on his own in different settings across Poland to Italy. Traveling in a van, he sees a herd of horses running free. In a large barn, he admires some big white horses but when he accidentally knocks over a case of trophies, he is taken away. For a while he lives on a farm where children want donkey rides. Later, he gets lost in a forest (beautifully photographed by cinematographer Michal Dymek) and is observed by an owl and a fox.

He meets his share of good and bad humans too. While grazing outside a bar, he is beaten by a hockey team who think he is the mascot for an opposing team. A kindly veterinarian nurses him back to health.

A donkey's journey

Even though we see these experiences through his eyes, we don’t know what EO is thinking. He is, after all, an animal. Fortunately, Skolimowski does not anthropomorphize him. Instead he helps us see what it would be like to be a donkey. Without giving away the ending, let us suggest that there is a message embedded in EO’s journey that had us rethinking the part we play in the lives of so many animals.

“Finding peace within and bringing peace to the world may start with the capacity to look into another’s eyes and recognize there a kindred soul, whether the eyes belong to a German, a Dutchman, a friend. A chimpanzee. Or a wolf.”
- Gary Kowalski