Begotten (1990)

My brother Brian turned me on to “Begotten,” a wonderfully, brainfuckingly psycho black-and-white horror fantasy film by E. Elias Merhige.

So … Fuck!—Hell!—Mother of Hell!—Violence, insanity, terror, incontinence, misery! Even my Avowed Inner Nihilist had to cringe and look away at times. It’s probably among the most disturbing movies ever made.

The photography is stunning, and I can’t help wondering if the indescribably bizarre, seemingly random imagery will coalesce for me into some kind of meaningful narrative with repeated viewings. That is to say, my own impression of this thing is so unformed, I would be reluctant to comment much beyond a general Oh, My, God!  If I could scrape my brain up off the floor, I could maybe figure out how even to begin making sense of it. Therein, of course, lies its weirdly winsome appeal—for those who can stomach it.

Reflecting upon the explicitly allegorical aspects hinted at in the names of the “characters” in the credits was not particularly helpful in working out a consistent story after the first viewing. Even so, it adds an element of poetry to the imagery, which gives welcome dimension to the film, and anchors it firmly in uncompromising nihilistic despair for “God,” “Mother Earth,” humanity, and all of creation.

Thus I would prefer a metaphorical to an allegorical perspective; beginning with the assumption that it depicts a literal world where people behave this way—an actual insane man, say, laboriously slicing himself open with a straight razor while barfing out gobs of of some grainy, blood-like material until he dies; and a woman, say, who removes sperm from the dead man to impregnate herself—this bizarre world, in turn, being a metaphor of the horrific psychological realities of 20th-century existence.

Considered even as a dream, a cinematic Rorschach Test, trying to make sense of it is an object lesson in how existentialists and nihilists might go about making “meaning” out of the cruelly meaningless, random, unrelenting misery and brutality of life. Or not. One thing I can say with confidence is that the filmmaker did not intend for his audience to go away dreaming of butterflies, or the kindness of strangers.

Allegorical, metaphorical, literal. One way or another, it’s as I said. Auschwitz, Nagasaki, Mutually Assured Destruction: for me, these symbolize the emotional tenor of the 20th century better than penicillin, the United Nations, or Al Gore. And why should that be? Why are my perceptions so inescapably colored by the evil and horrific? Excruciating misery over gleaming hope? Zyklon-B over Gleem with Fluoride? Movies like this over … just about anything else in the whole world?

Cast in order of appearance:

There are several versions on YouTube. Try these on for size:
• Original
• “Antichrist Superstar” Overlay Edition

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