Movie Review: “The Ghosts in our Machine” – Fails to Haunt

Written by Emily McWilliams June 12, 2013

It is the unspoken reality of our society: animals are the voiceless workers who serve many of our industries.  They provide the food we eat, the clothes we wear, and are used in laboratories for various experiments.  In “The Ghosts in our Machine” director Liz Marshall attempts to shed light on this overwhelming, but rarely discussed issue.  It is a sensitive topic; one that affects all people and usually ignites instant debate.  Marshall has a lot at stake to cover in a short, 2-hour window.  Sadly, “The Ghost in our Machine” fails to reach the full scope of the issue at hand and engage its audience into action.


“Ghosts” uses the story of photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur to structure the film and provide an identifiable protagonist.  Toronto-based McArthur has dedicated her life to document the animals we never see, the ones who live their lives in factory or fur farms.  Risking legal charges and her safety, McArthur breaks into these facilities to capture the startling images of imprisoned animals in the hopes that they will bring awareness to animal rights.

The film balances McArthur’s activism and her personal life: the struggle to find a publisher for her photos, bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronicling her work in a book she hopes to publish.  McArthur is the soft-spoken hero of the film and breaks the stereotypes one may have of animal activists.  Her photos are haunting and Marshall incorporates them well into the film’s aesthetic to create a stirring effect.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “a picture speaks a thousand words”, and it is one McArthur herself uses to describe her approach to creating awareness.


Movie’s Message Gets Lost

Where “Ghosts” fails however, is an over-reliance on this method.  Little explanation is provided for further depth into the animal welfare except for the odd voice-over from a scientist or spokesperson.  Simply, the film lacks any controversy or confrontation.  The plot follows a meandering and episodic path lead by McArthur and never climaxes or leads to any definitive strategy on what can be done to increase animal rights.  It’s true that creating awareness is important, but with no action-plan the film leaves audience members in exactly the same emotional position they were in prior to the screening.


“Ghosts” Afraid to Reach Potential

“The Ghosts in our Machine” proves that not every documentary about animal activism has to be a gruesome look at the meat industry, and tries to show a logical and empathetic approach to animal activism.  However, the film seems afraid of its own potential to leave a powerful impression and instead opts for the safe route by not taking any one definitive stand.

My Rating: 6.5/10


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