In one of those eerie synchronicities that abound in ordinary life, the day after I watched the movie “Equus,” about the boy who blinded six horses (now on Broadway in play form with the “Harry Potter” actor as the boy), this story was in the newspapers:
YOUNGSTER CAUSES DEATH OF SEVERAL ZOO ANIMALS
SIDNEY, AUSTRALIA: A 7-year-old boy broke into a popular Outback zoo, fed a string of animals to the resident crocodile and bashed several lizards to death with a rock, the zoo’s director said Friday.
The 30-minute rampage, caught on the zoo’s security camera, happened early Wednesday after the boy jumped a security fence at the Alice Springs Reptile Center in central Australia, zoo director Rex Neindorf said.
The child then went on a killing spree, bashing three lizards to death with a rock, includng the zoo’s beloved, 20-year-old goanna, which he then fed to “Terry,” an 11-foot, 440 pound saltwater crocodile, Neindorf said.
The boy also fed several live animals to Terry by throwing them over the two fences surrounding the crocodile’s enclosure, at one point climbing over the outer fence to get closer to the giant reptile.
In the footage, the boy’s face remaind largely expressionless, Neindorf said, “It was like he was playing a game.”
By the time he was done, 13 animals worth around $5,500 had been killed, including a turtle, bearded dragons and thorny devil lizards, Neindorf said. Although none is considered rare, some are difficult to replace, he said.
“We’re horrified that anyone can do this and saddened by the age of the child,” Neindorf said.
Alice Springs police said they are unable to press charges against the boy because of his age. Children under age 10 cannot be charged with criminal offenses in the Northern Territory. His name was not released because of his age.
Heindorf said he plans to sue the boy’s parents.
The boy’s small size is probably the reason he didn’t trip the zoo’s security system, which relies on sensors to detect intruders, Neidorf said.
“I just want people to learn that they can’t let their children go and run amok,” Neindorf said. “If we can’t put the blame onto the child, then someone has to accept the responsibility.”
Equus is based on a true case somewhat the same. This Aussie boy is much younger, his victims were reptiles rather than horses, and he was killing rather than blinding. The age of reason might be ten in Australia, but seven (second grade in the US) is a time when the brain and world-systematics are forming -- long bones are growing, social groups are becoming more complex, and one is learning to read and write. Like all transitional times, it is risky.
“Equus” turns on a valorized -- even sacralized -- interpretation of the world that revolves on horses. (The reviews in imdb.com are more than usually helpful in interpreting the movie, I suspect in part because those who go to see Equus are unusually thoughtful -- except for those who go for the nudity, who probably don’t write reviews.) The “Equus as Godhead” idea begins in this boy with an incident at age six, an oceanside encounter with a remarkably powerful “black rider on a black horse,” a figure that repeats in stories through the centuries -- and a marvelous one it is! But it doesn’t really blaze into liminal meaning until the boy begins puberty with its cocktail of powerful molecules.
The argument here, as I see it, is that religion is equated with sexlessness by the mother and atheism is equated with pornography (sex by proxy) by the father. (The old madonna/whore split, but with no real whore -- just fantasy.) The girl played by Jenny Agutter attempts to pull the boy into normal development but the relationship coincides with the father (the Father) witnessing them at a skin flick and then denying the incident, which precipitates the horse blindings. It is really the son who sees the father for what he is as much as the father seeing the son. (The Christian theological version of that might be relevant, a theodicy.) The movie is about the therapist (Richard Burton) trying to resolve all this -- mostly by dragging it out of the passionate liminal secret place where the boy loves freely, and into the social world so that he will be “adjusted” by “seeing through” the symbolism. But the therapist longs for access to such a world. It seems so much more “real!”
I think it has been too little explored that the mother lives in a “passionate liminal secret place” provided by sentimental Christianity and the father as well lives in his own “passionate liminal secret place” defended emotionally by atheism. This is the commonality among the three.
So I suspect this seven-year-old in Australia has also formed some kind of secret virtual place where his mind goes, not for sex-as-power but for violence-as-power. His home life will be relevant if we are allowed access. How much of it is dominated by television images? Did he CHOOSE reptiles as his objects, “sacrificing” to the Great God Croc? Or are those just the most usual zoo critters in Australia? Is this boy at all aboriginal? If so, are crocs and goannas of special symbolic meaning in that context? I suspect the “lack of expression” on his face indicated more than just play, but the far deeper virtual landscape of his inner world-construct. A kind of dream or hypnotic state.
To the rest of us this incident is horrifying. To some it will be even more horrifying than the teenagers who provoked a zoo tiger until it leapt the fence and killed one of them. I wonder if anyone will make a movie of THAT! Or have we already seen that on television as well, a B horror movie? What if the croc had eaten that boy? What if the last horse the boy in Equus blinded turned on him, became a magic-realism flaming Black-Horse-With-Rider and struck him down?
Right now the “real” daily news is as baffling and often horrifying as any psychological investigation. I’ve never read so many columns by major experts saying that they simply don’t know how to figure out our economic, ecological and political problems in any effective way, but that they find them very dangerous indeed. Are we being panicked? Run over a buffalo jump? Thrown to a croc? Where’s that know-it-all therapist?