Karma’s a Bitch
Someone (the internet claims it might have been 17th-century author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford) once said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whoever first said it neglected to mention that ugly follows the same rule. And if you happen to have sat through writer/director Teemu Nikki’s 2017 film Euthanizer (It’s Alive Films), you might also apply that rule to compassion, cruelty, virtue, vengeance, redemption, regret, salvation, surrender, or any other antonyms you might be able to conceive. This subtitled Finnish film is centered around Veijo Haukka (Matti Onnismaa), an independent auto mechanic who, as the title suggests, euthanizes unwanted pets on the side at a rate significantly cheaper than the local veterinarian. Although his methods are unorthodox and at first seemingly merciless, he has no shortage of clientele.
Veijo is a lost soul. Alone. Angry. He has no faith in humanity. He has father issues that become a bit more obvious after he pays his ailing dad a visit in the hospital. Every euthanasia he performs for a client comes with a lecture and a lesson for the pet owner who has provided what Veijo identifies as a poor quality of life for the pet they are about to throw away. In this way, he comes off as a kind of Hannibal Lecter character, able to perceive things about others that they would rather not see in themselves. Although he carries out each animal’s sentence of death, it is their human owners he judges. As these scenes play out, it becomes difficult for the viewer to consider Veijo to be any kind of protagonist in this tale. He judges. He sentences. He does not forgive, no matter what circumstances led the pet owner to this drastic end.
Multiple times, we see pet owners ask Veijo to commit the deed. We then see each owner being judged by Veijo for a lifestyle that is not conducive to the ownership of that particular pet. Then we see Veijo carry out the destruction of the animal. The euthanasia images are not graphic, but they are disturbing in that we are shown each animal’s peril. Smaller animals are euthanized by being placed in a car that has been modified with hoses that lead from its dual tailpipes to its luggage compartment. The pets are placed in that compartment with the engine running. Larger animals are simply taken into a wooded area and shot. Regardless of the reasons or the methods, Veijo is always able to perfectly destroy whatever comforting rationale for this choice the owners have allowed themselves just as easily as he dispatches the pets themselves.
That is, until the day Veijo meets Petri (Jari Virman), a local thug white supremacist who steals tires from his day job and provides them to a gang of other local thugs who call themselves Soldiers of Finland. His despicable views and thugdom aside, it is at first a bit easier to empathize with Petri than Veijo. Petri is obviously a powerless man who wants only to belong to something. He performs his duties as a husband and father, as evidenced by his multiple “honey do list” phone calls from his wife, only to be called out on it and bullied by the gang of other men whose respect he has chosen to desire. When Petri is ultimately saddled with having to haul his family’s dog around town and is beaten down for it by his fellow racist hoodlums, he decides to simply get rid of the dog. At first, he attempts to do it himself but finds that he can’t. Enter Veijo, who gives Petri a lesson that he doesn’t learn, accepts the task of euthanizing the dog, and then keeps it for his own pet. These events and the appearance of Veijo’s father’s nurse as a love interest who finds Veijo’s character intoxicating start the euthanizer’s downturn on the wheel of Karma.
Euthanizer is not easy to watch, but it is not because of any fault in the acting, the story, the cinematography, or the sound. Although the euthanasia scenes are particularly difficult to view, the film’s watchability as a whole does not suffer because of them. Euthanizer is not easy to watch because it forces viewers to confront themselves. Do you sympathize with Veijo, whose moral compass and empathy for the plight of animals enables him to end their suffering and harshly judge the people who contributed to it? Or do you sympathize with Petri, who wants to climb the ladder of success in the world of man and happened to unwittingly fill his life with obstacles, among which are the wrong friends? Perhaps the answer is neither. Or both.
It is not a surprise that this film was not made in the United States. We citizens of this great nation are often uncomfortable with being made uncomfortable, especially if what we’re seeing on-screen happens to strike at a particularly sensitive nerve, such as animal cruelty. That said, if you can stomach seeing dogs, cats, and guinea pigs in peril (having guns pointed at them or being trapped in cages in the back of a car filling with smoke), Euthanizer is worth your time because of the questions it raises about moral high ground, Karma, and crises of conscience. It’s worth pointing out that none of the animal characters in this film have on-screen kills. The camera is always pointed at a different view when Veijo ends their lives. In addition, I would not be reviewing this film if I believed any animals were actually harmed in the making of it. (There’s a reason I refuse to watch films like Cannibal Holocaust.)
Life is a dark ride through a carnival funhouse. Often what we think we know isn’t the whole truth. Sometimes what we think we know isn’t true at all. Many people throughout our lives will attempt to tell us what we should think about this, that, and any other little thing. However, at the end of the ride, when we’ve passed through the darkness of the tunnel and returned safely to the light of day, it is only ourselves who decide what we think. Not everyone comes to the same conclusion. Not the activist. Not the acted upon. Mostly, Euthanizer is a forceful look within ourselves.