Film, Psychology

Before Being Eaten – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Cannibal Holocaust. Directed by Ruggero Deodato. Written by Gianfranco Clerici. Grindhouse, 198019

    The film begins as a documentary about a missing film crew and its expedition into Amazon Rainforest. The crew goes to film a documentary about Rainforest’s cannibals. Alan Yates, the director; Faye Daniels, his girlfriend and script girl; and their two friends and cameramen, Jack Anders and Mark Tomaso never return to show their documentary.

    Instead professor Harold Monroe, a New York University (NYU) anthropologist, volunteers to lead a rescue mission to find the team and their film. He flies down to Amazon and discovers an absolutely primitive world of cannibals. Later on after much hiking through the jungle he meets the tribe which killed the four. The professor recovers the tapes and brings them to the States. After he warns that he has not seen anything more gruesome that the shot material he shows it to the commission of people who want to show the documentary to the wider audience. The documentary is shown and we experience the worst case scenario where all the documentarists are killed by cannibals after they perform and witness unimaginable events.

    In the beginning of the documentary the four introduce themselves and show how they are going to concur the Rainforest with their cameras. On their way they rape a girl which later is killed by the tribe. Then they burn the tribe’s houses and behave like they are the superpower. Later on we see who has the real power.

    Another tribe, the tree people, catch them one by one and gruesomely murder by decapitating, dismembering and raping the documentarists.

    After the commission watches all the material they are speechless. The commission decides to burn the documentary.

    There are so many studies of evil: eternal evil, evil in all of us, unconscious evil created by our psyche. But there is only one thought which bothers me a lot: why is evil called evil and why is evil bad? So many philosophers have agreed that evil is not that evil when one looks deeper, deeper into our soul.

    Evil through history has shown so many faces, though none of them has taught us how avoid it. But do we really need to avoid it and what would actually happen if we would finally avoid it? I expect the world would change as we know it. And I’m not sure if we would understand it.

    The world doesn’t change. Yes, the physical world is changing, but the human world is still in the same age as it was millions and millions years ago. We get angry at another human being. We think we are better than our neighbors. We go to war; thus we show that nothing has changed. That is scary.

    “… the price we pay for the advance of civilization is the loss of happiness. And since civilization itself arose as a flight from reality, it can’t even be justified as related to truth. The more civilized we become, the more we seem to suffer – without clearly gaining in knowledge.”20 Sigmund Freud

    The controversy of the film is based on our human perception. Nothing scares us more than fear of the unknown. It is enough for us to grab something gooey in the dark to make us scream. Our perception tells us things we know, but we might not be sure if it is real that something what we think it is. Could it be that what we grabbed in the dark is a decaying dead body? Or maybe that is something else that could make us sick?

    When I was a little child, I read fairy tales. They scared me so much that sometimes I had to go to sleep in my parents’ bed, thinking that they would protect me from unknown and imaginary things. Nobody knows for sure how Lucifer looks and why he is so scary. “From the standpoint of Jungian psychology, we might say that fairy tales do not recount consciously experienced human events, but that these “pure forms” make visible fundamental archetypal structures of the collective unconscious. This accounts for the non-human or, as Luthi puts it, abstract character of the figures; they are archetypal images, behind which the secret of the unconscious psyche is hidden.”21

    And now imagine that we have a film about something we heard from our great-great-grandparents, which is so real, because it involves us, human beings and nature. We heard stories about humans eating humans, maybe only in fairy tales, but when it comes to experiencing those stories on the screen, it is enough to put a couple of reality shots where animals are being executed without mercy. The story, even though not real, becomes a nightmare. The question if it is real is really asked.

    I grew up on a farm. My family was raising farm animals to be killed later for food. I remember one day my father came to our house and asked my brother follow him to the cattle-shed. The day came to kill a pig for food. Even though my brother is younger than I am, my father had chosen him for the “execution” of a pig. There is still a question why he had chosen my brother instead of me; maybe I was an “artistic” type, thus weaker for the purpose of killing of the pig? I do not know. I know one thing: that when it came to the point that my brother had to kill the pig he could not do it. He got sick to his stomach, because that was one of the pigs he used to feed every day. His soul made him upset, because it already had a relationship with the pig. He was not able to perform the killing, even though he was strong enough to do it. His soul’s intelligence forbade him the killing. My brother was able to help my father take care of the meat though, after the pig was killed by a butcher, but to perform the killing it was not completely in his power. It was in the power of his soul.

    My father had to invite our neighbor who was the one who always was asked to butcher pigs in our small town. There was nothing different about the butcher. That was his work. I know for sure that my brother was not meant for this work. Experiencing the “killings” in our cattle-shed did not make us different; even more so, we were able better understand the nature of an animal, an animal called human. Censoring the natural way of surviving creates a void in understanding of human nature.

    We want to pretend that there is a difference between us and other animals. The truth is we are the same. Seeing images which remind us about this is taboo and unacceptable to some people. We want to be superior; thus holocaust is born. To accept and learn is not what we want. We forget, thus we repeat.

To be continued…

 

Endnotes:

  1. Cannibal Holocaust is officially banned in over 50 countries worldwide. Certification status of the film today: Finland: K-18 (heavily cut VHS version); Norway: 18 (re-rating: 2005) (uncut); France: -18 (re-released) (DVD) (2004) (uncut); Singapore: (Banned); Finland: K-18 (2001); Sweden: 15; Japan: R-18; Hong Kong: III; Finland: (Banned) (1984-2001); UK: X (self applied: 1981); UK: 18 (re-rating: 2001) (heavily cut); Malaysia: (Banned); Ireland: (Banned); Canada: 16+ (Quebec); New Zealand: (Banned) (2006); Australia: R (re-rating) (2005) (uncut); Denmark: 15; Germany: 18 (heavily cut); Germany: (Banned) (uncut) 30; Brazil: 18; South Africa: (Banned); Philippines: (Banned); Italy: VM18 (re-rating: 1984); Norway: (Banned) (1984-2005); Australia: (Banned) (1984-2005); Mexico: C; Argentina: 16; France: -16; Iceland: (Banned); Netherlands: 16; South Korea: 18; Spain: 18; UK: (Banned) (1984-2001); USA: Open (rating surrendered: 1985); USA: X (original rating: 1984); West Germany: (Banned); Canada: R; Italy: (Banned) (1980-1984); USA: Unrated
  2. Sigmund Freud quoted in Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought, 234.
  3. James Hillman, ed., Studies in Jungian Thought: Evil (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1967), 86.

 

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