Ghouls track a mysterious serial killer in a remote town in Poland. What is slowly picking off the hunters and poachers? Gabe unpacks this eco-feminist film that features a Lorax-like heroine, who speaks for the wildlife. Kat explains the detrimental effect overhunting has on our environment and the future of our planet.
Sources in this Episode: 'Spoor' review: Agnieszka Holland unleashes an eco-feminist heroine Polish Thriller 'Spoor' Is A Pulpy Murder Story — And A Utopian Fable Fruits of the forest gone: Overhunting of large animals has catastrophic effects on trees’ What Effect Does overhunting have on the environment Other Spoor Reviews: Now on VOD: 'Spoor' Delivers A Revenge Thriller For Animal Lovers SPOOR: When The Hunters Become The Hunted - Film Inquiry
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Janina Duszejko, an elderly woman, lives alone in the Klodzko Valley where a series of mysterious crimes are committed. Duszejko is convinced that she knows who or what is the murderer, but nobody believes her.
Directed by: Agnieszka Holland & Kasia Adamik (collaborating director)
Spoor: Polish Eco-Feminist Film Condemns Overhunting by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
I think we can all agree that Poison Ivy is not really a villain. She’s an environmental activist. In a world with a city like Gotham, full of creeps and larger than life characters intent on selfish, greedy evil, Poison Ivy seems like a hero. IMHO. This film is Poison Ivy to me. It’s rare for me to say, “Eh okay maybe murder is okay sometimes.” but this film made me think exactly that.
This eco-noir features a serial killer, stalking the small town of Klodzko Valley and killing off local men. These men are far from innocent, having committed many murders themselves. However, those murders have been of local wildlife. These men are poachers and misogynists, holding the rural village hostage to their whims and regardless of laws. There’s something strange about this particular killer, could it be an animal’s revenge?
This film is adapted from Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which is now being added to my ever growing Eco-Horror To Read list on Goodreads. The film’s Polish title, “Pokot,” refers to the traditional ritual ending of a group hunting expedition, a count of the slaughtered animals, while “Spoor,” derived from Dutch, means the track or scent of an animal. This film follows Duszejko, a woman who lives in a quaint little area of Poland with her dogs. She is upset by the neighbors who hunt constantly. The film features title cards for each season, revealing which animals are up on the chopping block for hunters. Though that doesn’t stop these poachers from picking off whichever animals they feel like. We see many of the wildlife that Poland has to offer from boars, deer, and foxes. We also learn about special insects that live there and only there (meaning this plot of land should be protected). I found myself wondering if there were any Game Wardens around to enforce the laws but this seemed a lawless land of obscene animal murder.
In our heroine, I was reminded of Ragga from The Seer and the Unseen, an environmental advocate, speaking for the hidden people of Iceland - Duszejko was speaking for the animals. When they were injured or died, you could see the emotional toll it took on her, she died with them every time. Throughout the film, we get to know Duszejko and her little town. We meet the hunters and we learn that abuse doesn’t stop at the animals and that justice isn’t available for anyone on two legs or four. She finds comfort in her misfit band of friends, a neighbor with a dark past and growing affection for her, a struggling young shopkeeper in a sticky situation, and a techie with a hidden disability and full of charm, and an equally quirky, nature-obsessed entomologist. They become her tribe.
Then slowly, these evil hunters conveniently start dropping like flies. Duszejko offers a reasonable explanation for this - the animals are having their revenge. Deer hoof prints are found at the scene of one death, while the pheromones of a beetle are found at another. The very same men who were abusing and attacking the natural world were being attacked. She is scoffed at and dismissed as the hunters continue to meet their untimely demise. She informs the detective of events she found online in which bees strategically attacked someone and other instances of animals being put on trial for murder. At some point, you may even believe her.
Then it becomes troubling when we realize that Duszejko may’ve been the last person to see each of these evil men alive. She also happens to have new knowledge of the effects of certain pheromones from her friendship with the friendly entomologist. AND she has a motive in the form of her missing and presumed dead puppies.
Misogyny Vs. the Feminine
This town and the hunters have such little respect for not only animals but also other humans. There’s a disgusting misogynistic element that plays into making Duszejko seem more anti-hero than outright villain. She is caring and unassuming. Each of these hunters makes the grave mistake of not taking her seriously, going so far as to manhandle her in some scenes. In an LA Times article, 'Spoor' review: Agnieszka Holland unleashes an eco-feminist heroine by Katie Walsh, the writer explains the reverent feminism and unique perspective of an older female heroine singlehandedly fighting the patriarchy,
However, and respect due, this is the kind of film that never could never have been made by men. Tokarczuk and Holland give us an older female heroine driven by mysticism, astrology, legend and her primal, personal connection to plants and animals: ancient, feminine ways of knowing that are scoffed at by men. She fights back against this bloodthirsty, exploitative patriarchy, which often seems futile, but as bodies pile up mysteriously, surrounded by insects and animal tracks, it seems like nature is on her side.
I found some interesting notes about the director and Olga Tokarczuk (the author of the novel) about their reception in their country. On NPR, Polish Thriller 'Spoor' Is A Pulpy Murder Story — And A Utopian Fable, John Powers explains, Now 72, Holland left Poland 40 years ago after her films were harshly censored by the Communist Party, beginning a remarkable career in the West that includes everything from Holocaust films to Henry James adaptations to episodes of The Wire. Despite her Nobel, Tokarczuk is hugely controversial in her home country for speaking out against the current Polish government run by the nativist, overtly authoritarian Law and Justice Party. This only strengthens a story about one woman against a monumental patriarchal force of power.
The Unnecessary Luxury of Overhunting & other Disasters by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
This film covers a lot of heavy topics, like the horrors of over-hunting, the meat industry, the brutalization of animals for human “benefit” and more. We see the horrors of the overall disrespect for the other creatures of the planet, and the planet itself, highlighted throughout this film, and in a way that I think is impactful. While we aren’t shown the consequences of the human impact on the planet in any real large-scale way, we are shown a small sample of the damage and brutality humans are capable of. As well as, the disturbing way in which brutality and violence can be normalized under the guise of civilization and religion. That there is a system in which the powers that be, intentionally monsterize and demoralize whatever is categorized as subhuman for financial benefit. The separation and justification of the murder and abuse done onto animals by humans, with the guise that they don’t have sentience, or are seen as less than is pretty commonplace. It all feels familiar and definitely feels super gross. There is a disrespect for the planet that colonization, and westernization has spread like a literal disease.
The reality being that humans have reshaped the entire planet in irreparable ways that extend past the damage of any other invasive species, and have been justified with euphemisms like innovation and progress. Ultimately this movie sums up the thesis of the ghouls quite nicely, that people are trash, and that people are parasites. We forget too often, that we are also just animals, creatures that live on this planet just like anything else.
What I loved about this film is it really just made you root for the main character, who protects the creatures that can’t protect themselves by murdering the people who commit those attrocities. While the main character is very strange, quirky, and somewhat unhinged, you couldn’t really help but root for her throughout the film. I love that this film chose that angle, and that they weren’t demonized through the lens we were following.
So why was this lady so upset about hunting in her community? There are a lot of very good reasons for this. The difference between hunting for survival, and hunting for recreation has largely impacted the environment. There are many angles I could have taken for this episode, from how the meat industry treats their animals to the extent of extinction that has taken place as a result. I have chosen the latter to focus on for this episode and hopefully we’ll get to explore this topic further in the future. Hunting past the means of necessity is a disruption of ecosystems, and is ultimately very unsustainable. It impacts much more than just animals, when people disrupt the natural flow of nature through over hunting animals. The National Science Foundation outlines the way in which overhunting has impacting trees and other plant life in an article titled ‘Fruits of the forest gone: Overhunting of large animals has catastrophic effects on trees’ This article specifically covers this issue in Thailand but the information covered is applicable to any and all ecosystems in which hunting impacts them. “Overhunting of animals affects the entire forest. While the loss of these animals is concerning for species conservation, now researchers at the University of Florida have shown that overhunting can have widespread effects on the forest itself. Overhunting leads to the extinction of a dominant tree species, Miliusa horsfieldii, or the Miliusa beech, with likely cascading effects on other forest biota.” The article continues on to outline the way in which the hunting of large animals limits the seed dispersal for the trees, and this disruption impacts every area of the forest. From impacting the literal size of the forest habitat, to impacting the types of plants that develop throughout it. Ultimately there is a sense of urgency that exists when it comes to limiting the amount of hunting that takes place within forests in order to prevent the extinction of not only the animals that depend on the habitat’s to live, but the trees that make up the environment. The implication being that over the next hundred years if things do not improve, these ecosystems, the animals within them, and the plantlife within them will cease to exist.
In another article from Green Journal, titled ‘What Effect Does overhunting have on the environment’, more context is provided for the problem. While hunting has been recorded across almost all of human history, there is an issue surrounding the relationship between humanity and nature that is being inherently disrespected and exploited in modern times. “Traditionally, hunting was intended for survival, as natives in areas throughout the world would only gather what they needed to live. During the Antiquity period before the Middle Ages, hunting evolved into a privilege for people in higher societal classes. This practice has contributed to a concept known as“overhunting” over the subsequent centuries.” The cause is when individuals hunt outside of necessity. It is one thing to hunt in order to feed and clothe oneself, but what is taking place is the overhunting of certain areas for sport, and by companies in order to create an abundance to meet market expectations, or to achieve profit. What we see is individuals hunting as a means of competition or for recreational purposes and doing so in an inherently exploitative way. Without regulations surrounding this, we have entire species that go extinct or ecosystems that are decimated by poachers and big business.
This also extends to deforestation. In removing the trees, we remove habitats. In building for profit instead of sustainably, we have landfills, and things that are intentionally made poorly in order to encourage continued participation in capitalism. The result is the decimation of the trees on our planet, at a faster rate than they’re able to be replenished. The same applies to animals, who depend on these trees to live, and animals that are destroyed by the textile industry and the “exotic animal” trade. There are so many ways that capitalism, colonialism and imperialism has transformed landscapes in an inherently exploitative way that has landed us where we are today. An example that immediately comes to mind is the extinction of the buffalo in the US, both as a means for hurting the native population but also for profit and excess. Overfarming in the midwest is another example. The drain and exploitation of natural resources for LITERAL IMAGINARY currency has destroyed this planet.
The article goes on to talk about the lasting implications of this ecosystem destroying. As trees and animals and biodiversity it what makes this planet hospitable for life, what we’ll likely see if we continue to destroy it is a destruction of the ecosystem that allows for our own survival. “In most cases, animals provide a service that makes the planet habitable. Because we have biodiversity, we in turn can enjoy agriculture systems, water sources, climate stability and clean air. If you consider that each animal has a part in how the Earth operates, you can see that extinction disrupts the entire system, leading to serious implications.”
We could see this improve if we take the necessary steps to support the restoration of these ecosystems, and also if we learn to partner with our planet in ways that don’t harm the ecosystem that we depend upon for life.
The article outlines some potential solutions to the problems:
We need to ensure that areas are not hunted in excess and that trees are not harvested in excess. There needs to be regulations that prevent these things and strict rules for enforcing them. Eliminating hunting for sport would be a good start. In my opinion, we also need to change our society from operating exploitatively both of our populations but also of our planet, and shift to a more wellness focused structure. Essentially money in its current form needs to do.
More Awareness and Education
We need to educate our future generations of wildlife conservation, and living in a way that doesn’t damage our planet. Many people don’t realize the issues at hand, or are ignorant of them. Providing people with practical next steps or using platforms to educate others is a necessary step towards solving the problems. The article also states that states should require hunters to learn about overhunting and the problems associated with it before receiving licenses.
Support for Ethical Products
As consumers we need to back up what we want to see with our money. The article says each dollar is a vote, and that’s true in a lot of ways. If we want the planet to change, we need to support organizations and companies doing that work. This includes doing so with our food choices as well, when possible. Obviously this is to say it is more complicated when thinking of the reality of food deserts, poverty and other things that decrease access to these choices. So for this we say do so when possible within the current system we’re in, until that system is dismantled. Even decreasing the amount of meat you consume does amazing things to help the planet. So do what you can when you can, and recognize that because of the way our system is set up, there are instances when that won’t be possible, and ultimately remember the real enemy. If you have the means, we recommend donating to environmental organizations, supporting products that do consider the planet, and use your time when you can to learn, sign petitions, advocate and so on. We will as always provide links of resources we find ourselves.