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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Film, Psychology

Notes from Underground – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Introduction

     My head is splitting and I need some air. Just finished watching Baise-Moi, (2000) by Virginie Despentes; In The Realm Of Senses (1976) by Nagisa Oshima; Cannibal Holocaust (1980) by Ruggero Deodato and Gianfranco Clerici; Caligula, (1979) by Tinto Brass and Gore Vidal; and Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini.

     I need somebody to talk to. God knows why I have chosen to watch these films. Is it because I am fed up with films which leave nothing in my mind, are pre-chewed by their creators and put in my mouth without any spices for me to sense? Yes, I would agree, I have become a consumer of “films without taste.” I have swallowed them. They have left nothing to think about. I don’t even remember that I have watched them.

     I got plenty of “taste” after watching the films I am going to tell you about. Every one of them went deep inside of me and left their marks on my thinking. My consciousness was saying “stop watching them, stop watching them,” but my unconscious was giving me plenty of reasons to continue what I had started. I understood that those films were very personal to me, personal to somebody, as personal as one’s life could be. So I kept watching.

     I was more interested in what those films have left in my mind, how they have provoked my thoughts, and how they have created an absolutely different world I hadn’t been used to. If I said that I wasn’t disgusted, I would be lying. If I said that I wasn’t moved, I would also be lying. So then why was my unconsciousness telling me to keep watching, when I clearly saw and read that those movies are “bad seed,” “evil,” controversial, and banned? What made them become like that and what part of human nature or psyche did they touch so that they became completely unpalatable and without merit to some people?

     My thoughts are splattered in my head and I don’t know how to get a grip on them: where should I start? Should I start by discussing my emotions and my psyche, or should I dive straight into the films somebody has forbidden me to watch? Really, there are so many thoughts and there are not many words I know to make my thoughts reflect the way these films spoke to me.

     I want to be as personal as I can be by discussing the feelings I experienced watching these films. They are somebody’s experiences. They are feelings and thoughts brought to the screen. Somebody dreamt about something and said: “What could it possibly mean?” or had some question about themselves, their sexuality, their need for something that life – as it is – could not provide.

     I dived into reading Freud, Jung and other psychoanalysts looking for some answers. There were too many “somethings” in my mind. I began reading philosophers looking for the meaning of what I had experienced. I found a lot of guidance in their books, but my feelings wanted to discuss something else, even though that something else was already discussed by Sade, Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Camus, Dostoevsky, Bataille, or Mishima. That gave birth to my “notes from the underground,” to my notes from “undersoul,” to my notes of “intellectual feelings.”

To be continued…

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Film, Psychology

Approaching the Subject of Death – Death, Desire and Disgust in Film

Prologue

There are not many people who can truly say that they are not afraid of death. The second humans are born, in effect, they are born to die. Death has many faces; many of them are mysterious, frightening, and it is most often the case that when humans are faced with death they lose their “cool.” What humans do not understand or are afraid to understand makes them suffer. Humans suffer not from life itself, but from living it. A human being’s consciousness is defined by intellect or by a way of thinking. The knowledge of how thinking is born gives humans their perspective on how to live. Death, desire, and disgust go hand in hand on the road of the unknown. Humans bravely walk this road of disgust looking for answers, although usually emotions get in the way, of rational understanding. The mind dictates the norms born in a society, while inner souls are drawn to experience an unconscious story.

The social and psychological use and function of human experience is fundamental. It defines and at the same time breaks down boundaries. Inevitably, in modern times, cinema has played a huge part in defining those boundaries. And because cinema story and aesthetics are constantly metamorphosing, the boundaries do as well. What is unknown today might be known tomorrow; what is evil now, might be good tomorrow.

The act of reproduction itself is an act of death. By producing a new life humans actually produce another being for death. This circle of human nature is morbid but not unfamiliar. Humans all understand that they live by Nature’s order; and in that way, similar to animals. But the big difference between humans and animals is humans’ unique consciousness of the paradox of death and their unstoppable instinct to impose intellect on the natural order to make sense of it all. What is often not understood becomes a taboo.

In these series of writings, I will attempt to draw a distinction between human intellect and human experience. Most of the time humans approach lives through their experiences. The experience of others is nothing for us at the age when our intellect is forming. A child will still put a fork into an electric socket even though his mother said that it will hurt. Humans’ experience of pain defines knowledge of that pain. Through that experience the senses gain “intellect.” Human souls “read” these senses. That way they become “intelligent.”

Alongside each film I screened I read certain philosophers and psychoanalysts to gain insight as to how to react to it. They touched the parts of my brain which connect creativity, common sense and compassion. The written works of Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Bataille gave me the stylistic approach for writing the series; the idea of using the “soul’s intellect” to better understand my own feelings towards the controversial. With their help I put my thinking into impressionistic writing, because my creativity is provoked by that which makes my brain work.

Intellectually explaining a feeling can sometimes kill the understanding of it. This is why I am going to take on a “personal tone” in the series. Unconsciousness is very important to me while constructing my sentences. Sometimes I explain myself through “free association,” the method many psychologists use on their patients. The flow of the “research” is accessed through my “dreams” along with the films and philosophical literature. The feelings provoke my thoughts, and written words get onto paper.

Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground is my main guidance in the structure of this work. Dostoevsky, in the first part of Notes, explains and narrates his feelings through a character, but leaves the actual events that affected him for the second part. He tells about affected feelings before the reader hears what caused them.

I often pay homage to Nietzsche and his construction of Thus Spoke Zarathustra. His lonely man’s voice provoked in me the tragedy of the human psyche. I want to call him a “psychologist of philosophy.” I play with his way of writing and, maybe, at some point even pretend that I am that voice. “With knowledge, the body purifies itself; making experiments with knowledge, it elevates itself; in the lover of knowledge all instincts become holly; in the elevated, the soul becomes gay.”1 “God is a thought that makes crooked all that is straight, and makes turn whatever stands.”2

Georges Bataille’s explanation of how he used his personal experience while writing Story of the Eye gave me guidance as to how to express something that I was not able to express or explain.

These are the keys one should know while reading next chapters. If it feels “too impressionistic,” let it be, because explaining a feeling is sometimes censoring the thinking of the soul. Personal experience through feelings for me is the soul’s intellect. At some point one might feel that there are too many people speaking at the same time and the main thought is buried somewhere in between. That is my purpose. Many times controversial films are censored and then uncensored or re-released. Why this is happening is also buried somewhere between “defined censorship.” The real question is: who gives the power of censorship to one or another group of people? How do they decide that something is inappropriate and can provoke “evil?” Are they not “evil” themselves who see movies with their own dirty minds? Are they not reflecting like a mirror what is wrong in their own lives? Is it not, in Freudian terms, “a fear of the unconscious?”

“In his denial of the unconscious, of the deeper self that is expressed in dreams, one may sense his fear of depths, of anything not visible to the naked eye – for he is, after all, the ‘objective’ observer par excellence.”3

I am very much on Nietzsche’s side when he says that “all instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward.”4

Oscar Wilde’s novella The Picture of Dorian Gray written in 1891 comes to my mind. The ironic part in the history of writing The Picture of Dorian Gray is that the book was used to accuse Oscar Wilde of “evil doings” and “helped” him to become a convict. A similar thing happened with the Italian director Deodato after his Cannibal Holocaust was released in 1980. The film’s mis en scene was so vivid and believable that he was actually accused of killing his actors during the filming. To avoid jail time or even a possible death sentence he had to find the actors and bring them to the court to show that they had not in fact been killed during the shooting of the film and were very much alive.

The play with the human psyche and hidden evil is what interests me while writing the series. Humans who would not know good without knowing evil.

So these are my “notes from the underground” after screening the films. Each “note” is affected by a specific movie and by a specific controversy the film touches.

To be continued…

Endnotes:

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, a book for all and none (New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1966), Pg. 77
  2. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Pg. 86
  3. Roy Starrs, Deadly Dialectics: Sex, Violence, and Nihilism in the World of Yukio Mishima (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994), 130.
  4. Starrs, Deadly Dialectics, Pg. 128
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