Experiments in Film: Begotten (1990)

What kind of blog month at Cinemalacrum would it be if I were not to include at least one outright experimental film in my set of horror films.  I vowed to include more experimental films in my blog at the new year and was doing relatively well for a few months before failing a bit, as such I have included E. Elias Merhige's Begotten this month as one of the definitive experimental horror films of the past few decades.  A horrific film in every sense of the word, Begotten manages to make viewers uncomfortable both in what they can contextualize in what is being shown, as well as troubling over what they cannot make out, let alone understand.  Incorporating black and white negative images of gore and violent sexual acts, Merhige manages to completely eviscerate any sense of comfort upon viewing this film, which is allegedly a reconsideration of the creation stories found in Genesis, as well as a few other global religions.  At no point is it evident that Merhige attempts to comfort his viewers with images of safe familiarity, even when we are clearly show something like a mother nature figure it is only quickly disrupted by either jarring angles, awkward encounters with sexuality or a saturation of the screen with some degree of blood and filth.  Even the presence of  a soundtrack manages to complicate the viewing experience, as many of the sounds only consist of out of place cricket noises or disturbing gargling and sloshing sounds.  One could got at lengths about what is possibily commented upon within Begotten, but it is clear that its main course of action is to both deconstruct and undermine the seemingly high amount of respect attached to these ancient religious figures, by depicting them engaged in some of the most debasing and dehumanizing acts possible, not only stripping of their deity powers, but even the basis of human relations as well.

At the onset of the film, Begotten posits a statement concerning the dismantling of language traditions and memory, suggesting that such incantations of the past are dead, going further to suggest that they shall flicker away like a flame.  With this in mind we can at a very simple level attempt to appropriate the manner in which the images formulate and function upon the screen.  All of the imagery is black and white, and the construction of the scenes often causes their to be a clear delineation between the whites and blacks on the screen, perhaps making reference to textual history, something the film seems adamant about destroying.  In fact, the only time the film seems to offer images of grey, or any other merger of black and white is when the shot cuts to a skyline, perhaps positioning the questions to why such grotesque actions occur within the hands of spiritual inquiry.  Of course, the film manages to dismiss this as it is never ended with just a skyline, but always followed by more images of horror and violence.  In fact, if Begotten manages to provide any insight into what one should consider about religion it is that it is a misogynist, patriarchal and violent oppressive force that takes pride in slaughter and forceful sexual dominance, and for it to be discontinued one needs to return to a natural world, but this natural rebirth necessarily requires a large death of sorts, one that, according to Begotten, is all but metaphorical.

Begotten excels in being disturbingly beautiful, while the imagery is certainly problematic and at times nearly unwatchable it is interjected with some truly provocative and awe-inducing cinematography that makes the viewing worth one's while.  It should also be noted that Susan Sontag thinks this to be one of the ten most important modern films, a point of high praise if I say so myself.

For more information on E. Elias Merhige, or to watch the film online click on either of the screenshots below:

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