Cow: An emotional gateway into veganism

‘Cow’ portrays the life of Luma, a cow who spends her life on a British dairy farm. The documentary shows her experience first-hand, which shows the harsh reality of how humans get ownership of the milk they consume in their daily lives.

In the first few moments of Cow, we meet Luma while she is giving birth. She meets her calf and licks it clean in peace until the farmworkers end the loving and nurturing bond between her and her baby. The calf is taken away while Luma cries out for her. But she isn’t able to express her distress for long, as she is led away to the milking machines to continue her duty, while the amniotic sac still dangles from her body. This opening immediately makes the viewer aware of the tone of the documentary. This is not a nice look into the life of cute farm animals, this is a look into the horrendous dairy industry that we as humans have normalized for decades.

The whole story of Cow is told through Luma’s eyes. She communicates with the audience through the look in her eyes, her mooing and body language. Words are only spoken by the farmworkers who seem to find their work completely normal. One moment where this is very apparent was when a group of calves gets transported to another local farm. “Look at how excited they are”, one woman says while the young animals run around in their cage in panic while bumping into each other and searching for milk. The absence of dialogue makes the viewer see the story from the animals perspective, instead of our own as humans, which made the story even more heart-wrenching at times.

The documentary is directed by Andrea Arnold. This film was her debut in the world of documentaries. Her earlier works focus more on fiction, but captioning reality seemed like second nature to her almost. The shots of Luma crying out for help or staring into the distance don’t feel forced in any way and as a viewer, you get to form a connection with Luma and her calves.

Cow is in no sense a fun documentary to watch. But it is an emotional eye-opener for those who weren’t aware of the atrocities of the dairy industry before. This documentary succeeds in showing the horror while also making it clear how normal this all looks from the outside, and an inside, perspective. This becomes clear through the radio hits playing on the farm while the cows are getting milked and the smiles shown by the workers while sticking their hands down the cows’ backsides, all while they hopelessly stare into the distance.

The sadness of it all hits hard during sometimes unbearably long shots of Luma crying out in sadness or staring into the distance. These moments feel like they take forever, while they only last a couple of seconds. Cow is a real must-see for any animal rights activist or someone who doesn’t know much about the dairy industry yet. It will make every person rethink their consumption of dairy.

Director Andrea Arnold 

Andrea Arnold is a British director from Dartford. She was born on the fifth of April, 1961. 

Before becoming a director, Arnold started her career as an actress. She starred in multiple TV shows such as ‘Gods of Medicine’ and ‘Get Fresh’.  

Fourteen years later she made her debut as a director. She mostly directed fiction films. She is best known for the award-winning film ‘American Honey’ that she directed in 2016.  She also won an Oscar for Best Short Film for her film ‘Wasp‘, which came out in 2003. 

Cow‘ was Arnold’s first documentary, which was shown at the Amsterdam International Documentary Festival.