In America, we see films so literally anymore. When nothing is taboo, everything can be spelled out with every T perfectly crossed and every i perfectly dotted. One of my main complaints about American cinema is that so few films leave anything to be worked out by the viewer (to the point where my mind wanders around looking for double or triple meanings in movies where they may not be applicable). This ability to have every point spelled out has incapacitated our brain from being able to see beyond the most basic and well-worn symbolism in existence. But, in other countries where certain behaviors are still illegal, coding is alive and well. In Russia, any discussion of homosexuality or transgenderism and distribution of pro-homosexual or transgender propaganda is outlawed. Even Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast was given an Adults Only rating over its gay character that American gay critics were bitching barely even existed.
Zoology is a Russian tale about a healthy, slightly frumpy, middle-aged spinster who still lives with her very religious and conservative mother. Natasha has a desk job at a local zoo where she is mercilessly teased and bullied by her workmates who put rats in her desk. It’s through this job that she finds pleasure by being able to wander the zoo and care for the animals. Did I mention she has a tail? The movie is relatively unclear if she’s always had this tail and has hidden it from view or has just grown her tail, but the result is she has a very large ratlike tail that she keeps hidden at all costs.
Natasha’s tail is a natural part of her body. When she sees a doctor about her tail, they tend to push her aside because, what are you gonna do with a middle aged woman with a tail? And, so, she becomes empowered by her natural “difference” and even finds somebody who will love her despite, or maybe because of, that “difference.” Other people are scared by that “difference” and spread rumors and malicious lies about her because of that “difference.” But, her mother seems to be scared of that “difference” and gets increasingly religious.
Are you catching this drift?
According to the director Ivan Tvardovsky, the tail is a metaphor for a “distinguishing trait” (which, according to a profile in Variety, represents anything from “political views or taste in music or sexual orientation“). Some have stated that it was about body issues in women, and some have seen it as just being about non-conformity. But, by the end, there are scenes that specifically signal out to the sexual orientation reading of the film, especially if you know your gay history and the all-too-common methods of attacking homosexuals and trans* people.
Yes, not everything is queer…but, sometimes you just have to look at the preponderance of codings and wonder exactly what else the movie could be referring to. Maybe I’m just reading into a movie that invites many readings, and I’m just bringing a queer eye to the film. Maybe the director has to be discreet since he’s still working under the Russian industry. But, this gorgeous movie is full of metaphors beyond the literal.