WHY WOULD ANYONE possibly think they could keep a goddamn lion as a pet? That's the question posed by the documentary The Elephant in the Living Room, and while it might seem like a pretty specific query, apparently there are tens of thousands of Americans who regularly wonder such things as they pore through the exotic animal equivalent of Mini Truckin' magazine and drive to clandestine reptile swap meets to buy their little ones the finest in venomous snakes.
Elephant follows two people on opposite ends of the issue: There's Terry Brumfield, a physically and emotionally broken Ohio man who crawled out of potential paralysis via what can basically be called "lion therapy," and Tim Harrison, a police officer who's sent out on calls when owners of exotic animals get overwhelmed by responsibility and set their "pets" free.
This is sad, tense stuff, and it overcomes director Michael Webber's predilection toward tired stylistic gimmickry. Brumfield's obsession is made somewhat understandable, but even though the film is littered with news clips of naïve exotic-animal owners being killed by their pets, the film makes it clear that the biggest victims of this subculture are the animals—wild, proud things that were never meant to be used like this.