Scary Silents: “Begotten”
Welcome back to Scary Silents! Even though this series is relatively new, I’m already changing things up a tad, so I hope none of y’all mind. Yes, this is still a silent film I’m discussing, but it isn’t from the sanctioned “silent film era” (hence the reason I also cross-posted it in my “Creepy Scenes” category). It’s a notorious experimental film from 1991 called Begotten, directed by Edmund Elias Merhige, who was also responsible for the fantastic film Shadow of the Vampire (which of course focused on the making of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu). I became intrigued with Begotten because of its persistent appearance on pretty much every “Most Disturbing Films EVAR” list circulating on the internet, so being something of a masochist, I decided to check it out and write down my thoughts for posterity. If you would like to follow along, here is the linky-poo:
The first thing I gotta say is that this certainly does look like a legitimate silent film from the era. It’s filmed in very stark black and white, and the film stock is all grotty and the camera work shaky, so kudos for realism. There is also no sound other than the constant drone of crickets, and the occasional grunt. The first shot is a shack in the woods, and already I’m digging the whole look of the thing; it really conveys that creepy, otherworldly feel I look for in my old silent films. I have a creeping suspicion that the entire production is going to be intensely arty-farty, but I don’t have a huge problem with either arts or farts, so it’s all good.
Inside the shack is a man in an eerie Leatherfacey mask and a white robe. He has blood all down his front and he’s coughing up even more of the stuff as he shakes and twitches, so I’m guessing it isn’t really his day. From the Wikipedia entry, I’m led to understand that this is supposed to be God™, so I’m rolling with it and calling him that. He produces a straight razor and begins to disembowel himself, pretty enthusiastically, I thought. He’s pulling viscera out from between his ribs and just merrily hacking away, chucking organs on the floor all willy nilly and wiping blood on the walls, because fuck it, he’s God™ and he knows he’s not the one who’s gonna have to clean up the place. That’s what worshippers are for. And just as a final dick move, he poops himself a lot (I think; since the movie’s in black and white, poop and goopy organs look the same) and lets it splooge all over his feet and everything. OH MY GOD, GOD™, GET A DIAPER.
Then, from out of the mess of fabric and innards and fecal matter, a woman’s arm emerges, and the rest of the woman invariably follows. This is Mother Earth, and she’s wearing a black mask over her eyes like it’s Mardi Gras all up in here, and she can’t seem to keep her hands off her perky ta-tas. She wanders around for a bit, her head thrown back. Then, because why not, she begins giving DeadGod™ a handie. He jizzes on her tummy and she rubs it in like Oil of Olay, because the protein in semen is like REALLY good for stretch marks (claim not evaluated by the FDA). She then smooshes her man-battered hand into her impressively furry bush, making sure it gets alllllll up in there so that she may preggify her bad self with DeadGod’s™ SuperSperm™. Is anyone reminded here of The World According to Garp? Just me? Okay, moving on.
We next see a black coffin appearing at various points in an empty field, and then Mother Earth is standing next to the coffin, rubbing her preggo belly. There are some quickly-edited shots of what looks like blood on skin, and I think I saw a fetus hand in there, and then suddenly there’s a fully-grown man lying all bloody on the ground, and what looks like a janky umbilical cord connecting him to Mother Earth. She wanders off and leaves him there, all WELL, YOU’RE ALL GROWN UP NOW SO GO GET A JOB, and he’s all twitching and hyperventilating and looking like a victim of the Mount Vesuvius eruption, and I wonder if he’s gonna have abandonment issues from here on out. WTF MOM, NOT EVEN ONE SIP OF BREAST MILK? Mother Earth is super harsh, you guys.
And then there are a bunch of hooded men shown in shadow, and I guess they’re nomads because they look like they’re all laden down with merchandise from Pier One, and they come across the Son of God, and they’re all like HEY, FREE NAKED DUDE while he writhes around. They scoop him up and tie him with ropes (or maybe this is the umbilical cord, hard to tell) and bring him along on their nomadery, because maybe they’re bored out there wandering in the barren landscape or maybe they’re gonna eat him later, who knows. Son of God (henceforth SOG) doesn’t appear to be having too fun a time, convulsing his limbs and struggling and being all WHERE ARE YOU GUYS TAKING ME, SHIT’S NOT FUNNY ANYMORE and the nomads just drag him around like it ain’t no thang. SOG begins vomiting up organs or something, and the nomads are all FUCK YEAH and start collecting the stuff in their bags, and then, because they apparently can’t wait until he yaks up some more of his insides, they start pulling the goo right out of his midsection while he’s going SO I GUESS YOU GUYS AREN’T GONNA HELP ME THEN and they’re like NOPE, JUST GONNA SWIPE ALL YOUR INNARDS AND THEN PUT YOU IN A SLING AND DRAG YOU UP A CLIFF. THAT’S HOW WE ROLL.
They make a fire and drag him to it, because presumably this is like The Hills Have Eyes and they’re all cannibals too, because they really needed that last little push to cement their dickery. They stab the shit out of him while he writhes and vomits, and the nomads aren’t even fazed, man, they’re like WHATEVER, VOMIT JUST TENDERIZES THE MEAT and then they drag him around some more while a bunch of his meaty bits hang out his mouth, while the sun glares down, impassive.
Then he’s lying on the ground alone, still twitching but now all clean again, so I guess they didn’t barbecue him after all, and Mother Earth comes back and puts a collar on him and starts dragging him around too, because nothing like rubbing salt into the wound, right, MOM? SOG really hasn’t had the most pleasant introduction to the world, in case you hadn’t noticed.
The nomads, apparently peeved that someone made off with their toy, begin following, gesturing at her like GET THAT UPPITY WOMAN WHO TOOK OUR FREE NAKED MAN, BUT FIRST LET’S BASH THE MAN’S HEAD IN WITH A STICK WHEEEEE and then it looks like they punch him in the dick too, and then maybe pull it off, but the way the film is shot it’s kinda hard to tell. Sounds like something they would do, though. Fuckin’ nomads.
Then they gang rape Mother Earth, because of course they do, all the while beating on her with their sticks and just tearing her all up and jizzing on her by the gallon. This bit was actually kind of upsetting to watch; even though it’s not particularly gory because of the black and white and because it’s so shaky and grainy that it’s hard to tell exactly what’s happening, in a way that makes it worse because you can see enough of what’s going on to imagine the rest. The flashes of them just pounding the shit out of her labia with their big mace-like staffs (not a euphemism) especially had me going:
Then Mother Earth is lying there, and SOG is kneeling between her legs, so I guess he’s still alive despite the head-bashing, and I’m thinking OH, ARE YOU GONNA RAPE HER TOO? MIGHT AS WELL, EVERYONE ELSE HAD A GO, FUCKING HELL, but I guess he’s just mourning or something. Two nomads come and drag Mother Earth away from him while he’s all WHYYYYYYY.
And then it looks like they’re nailing her to a rock face while feeling her up some more because they’re just shameless, these nomads. Then they cut her into pieces, so that’s nice. They put the pieces into a big barrel that they’ve evidently brought along for that very purpose, so it’s good to know they were planning ahead, and at least had the wherewithal to stop by Home Depot on the way to the dismembering.
Then there’s a sunrise, and we see SOG still crawling around like a worm in the dirt, and because the nomads are nothing if not thorough, they scoop up SOG again, put him in a sack, and beat the stuffing out of him with a huge clown hammer and poke at him with sticks. It starts to rain, and there’s some waterfall action going on, then the nomads are stabbing and punching all the guts into the ground, because FUCK THOSE GUTS, and I mean, really, this all seems a bit like overkill at this point. Then I guess they’re planting the guts, and the next scene is of plants and flowers blooming. So everything worked out okay in the end, and only three beings had to be raped and eviscerated, but they’re like not even people, they’re just like representations, man, so no big. Circle of life, folks, nothing to see here. Good times.
So what was my final impression? The film is certainly nightmarish, that’s for sure, and seems to spring from some dark, primitive place of savagery miles removed from most people’s day-to-day lives. As a metaphor, it’s pretty brilliant, examining as it does the tortures that the earth and our gods go through to satisfy our human whims (or at least that’s what I understood the film to mean). I didn’t find the film particularly hard to watch, other than the rape scene (because rape scenes always give me the squicks), but that’s mostly because the shots were deliberately grainy and obscured, leaving most of the violence to the imagination. I think the horror comes more from the idea of what’s going on, rather than what the viewer can actually see. It was a strange experience for sure, and the imagery was rather haunting. I might actually give it another watch when I’m not distracted by office noises and having to stop it every few minutes to write this silly crap about it. Heh.
Please stay tuned for more Scary Silents! I will probably go back to the more traditional silent films for the next installment, but I wanted to do this one as an experiment because it was so highly recommended. Keep creepy, my friends, and until next time, Goddess out.