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Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifWorld Artists Home Video (DVD), ASIN B0000541WJ
God disembowels himself pound for pound at the beginning of Begotten. Blood seeps, and insects crawl through the strips in his flesh. The camera treats us to every slash, while the sound treats us to the relentless drip-and-suck of a nearby (but never seen) sink and drain.

DVD: BegottenDid I say "disembowels?" Perhaps I meant "C-sections himself." Relish those contradictions. After the last, fatal slash, from God's robes (discordantly expanded from where they were at the beginning of the scene) emerges Nature.

As God begets nature, Nature begets a son offered in a long ceremony of silent pleading and ritual sacrifice that, in the end, makes the fields grow richer, the food more plentiful. Not crucified, but ushered along, buried alive.

The film's performances and overall tone prove unexpected and refreshing. It's great to learn of a director who, although significantly influenced by Bunuel in terms of lighting, grain, and provocation, didn't utterly commercialize the shock of the opening scene in Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou. (Dear fahns of Ah-nauld like me: What have you seen being cut out before for shock value? Ah'll be back.) While director E. Elias Merhige's extended skin-stripping lacks the sudden shock of Bunuel, the voyeuristic appeal of Merhige's opener make Hitchcock look blind.

Begotten, however, does not reflect at all upon the meaning of watching, despite Merhige's fascination with ceremonies and repetition of the two types of sacrifice, self and ritual. This film uses voyeurism to transcend the fascination of watching into new realms of interpretation. It uses every single cinematic element to do so. Witness the aforementioned grainy film stock, with every scene tactile, pungent with every odor.

All the performances here cajole me into thinking of what the "God Plays" of the 14th or 15th century must have been like. God does what He does, and also so for Mary and Jesus. This film shunts everyone through a different corridor. Layers are peeled off. Fresh spins occur. Artistic liberation breathes new life, while long buried ideas fertilize to enrich and inform the new. Begotten mightily -- and scarily -- attempts to film a new myth of creation from the supreme self-sacrifices of the father (sacrificing himself for the bearer of his children), to the death of the mother and the son for ideals of nature, growth and civilization.

One truth left ambiguous lies in interpretations for the motives of the sacrificers. To maintain the solidarity of some unknown and unknowable empire? Or to perpetuate some new mode of idealistic existence through the death of someone whose very life promises eternal renewal and hope. Every single scene in Begotten refreshes and provokes from camera angles to film stock choice to character and meaning -- a film worth every word of endless debate.

Michael Pacholski

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