Begotten DVD

Director: 'E. Elias Merhige'
(year 1991, released on DVD format in 2001)

Language: none

MARK: 86/100


And you thought that "Eraserhead" or "The Kafka Effekt" were minimalistic uncomprehensible flicks? Nothing if compared to the weirdness of a black and white flick, showing scenes of mutilation, madness, and murder and telling an ancestral story of the world's genesis. The whole thing deals with a sort of primordial or futuristic creation/death ritual carried out between the gods and mankind; the easiest scenes to discern are the opening ones, where the camera reveals a twitching creature with a substance disturbingly comparable to blood pouring out of its mouth. With some sort of razor, that creature, God, kills himself by cutting open its own abdomen (in chunky morbid and bloody detail) in order to give birth to a new life form. This new goddess (Mother Earth) admires the decomposing skeleton of her creator, buries it and later on gives birth on barren earth to a weird twitching and convulsing mutant male (Jesus or probably the first man devoid of Eve) being made of clay first and at dawn of flesh and bones; he coughes up what looks like a piece of meat, and afterwards is masturbated, put into a sack, and tied in a desert - according to certain rituals - by shambling primitives (Druids?) who eventually beat him and his mother to death. The whole film moves at a snail's pace, the way impressionistic movies of the early 20th century used to do, with many of the later scenes nearly impenetrable to the eye even on what appears to be a fundamental DVD transfer. Some may find it boring, dismiss it as utter boring garbage except for one niggling concern: you can rarely take your eyes off the television screen. That is the proof we're indeed in front of a hypnotic movie, and surely not one of those to watch while doing something else, yet one you can enjoy alone or in company, hoping the other(s) won't fall asleep or try to fast forward some scenes!

Is it compelling? Very. Is it arty? Often. Is it atmospheric? Indubitably. Is it entertaining? Rarely, but that isn't a bad thing at all, hugely surmounting the standards of Hollywood crap or any movie that tries to overtly dialogue with the public. Symbolism is strongly used all along the rich, surrealistic and occult (until you read the titles at the end of the DVD/VHS) imagery is there in a perverse way. It evokes dreams I have had that seem to touch something inside me that is too painful to confront. The Jungian concept of cultural symbols that show up in the "Collective Subconscious" seems to be expressed here. "Begotten" makes me think of the passages in Jung's "Man And His Symbols" regarding a little girl who had dreams with religious images that were distorted and disturbing, but the child seemed to be fascinated by what she had 'learned' and wanted to share it with others through drawings. Passages of James Frazer's "The Golden Bough" and writings of Joseph Campbell also come to mind. "Begotten," a wildly inventive low budget film imagined and subsequently lensed by Edward Elias Merhige will leave a lasting scar on anyone who watches his nightmarish vision. The celluloid equivalent of a bad dream best forgotten, the director's pet project continues to mark its viewers; I occasionally hear people discussing that even though it came out over 10 years ago. No matter what you come away with after watching it, you will remember it for ages to come. Nothing approaches its visceral power, its unshakable commitment to eerieness, and its disgustingly haunting imagery. I have seen it twice and still cannot define exactly everything that I saw or successfully integrate the various scenes into a coherent whole. Unfortunately, subsequent viewings will NOT uncover more details, so you can only open yourself to discussions about different interpretations with other spectators. But the right and complete one will never come out and this is what Mehrige wished.

Far from being filmed in glaring color reminiscent of an episode of the Brady Bunch, "Begotten" uses a complicated technique of abstraction to create a type of black and white picture rarely if ever seen. The film employs deliberate grains and scratches on the inverse negative and some sort of treatment that makes the unearthly images contained within glow with a sickly light (technically called 'speckled chiaroscuro'). Low budget movie we said, but long-time was necessary so as to obtain this appearantly easy result, as from the director's very words commenting on that: "Each shot in the film went through hours of preparation to achieve the look you will experience when viewing... the etheral 'pulse' that hypnotically permeates the film. It took over ten hours to re-photograph less than one minute of selected takes." Every photography and cinema class ought to employ it as a well-representative pattern.
Moreover, there isn't a whit of discernable dialogue in the whole movie, with the only natural sounds being a discordant drone punctuated by occasional rattles, laboured breathing, chimes, and sounds of drops of water. The sun rises and sets with alarming regularity to mark the staticity of the action, but this hint at the passage of time provides no respite for the viewer as the nightmare unfolds onscreen.

What IS going on here? Who knows, but it carries an appeal similar to a car accident on the freeway. Merhige should receive a compliment for at least trying to accomplish something different . I'm not either surprised in the least to learn that Marilyn Manson retained his services to direct one of his music videos (the marvellous "Cryptorchid" and the song is excellent too). In short, if "Begotten" isn't the strangest, eeriest thing you will ever watch, you belong to an elite who have explored bleaker vistas than I. I should conclude with an apology for speaking about this film by using so many superlatives, but watch it and see why I did so. Of course, the DVD version is recommended to distinguish the later scenes as said above and also because of the special features: a souvenir booklet; interactive menus; scene access; the original theatrical trailer; and rare, never-before-seen stills and color production photos.

One of the first questions I asked just after the end was why Mother Earth was so insensitive to her son, and maybe that might be intended as I did, that is as a cruel mother letting selection prevaricate: the weak and the deformed are quickly engulfed, ruled and eliminated by the strong, especially if the latter are a multitude. Men killing other men, the history of mankind, of the whole natural and vegetal world too. By killing other men, man kills himself, his own blood and breed and it will always do so, as our maker did to himself and created its spawn, us, to its damned image. The Earth watched her own Son dying carelessly, so why should She get worried when a natural catastrophe occurs nowadays, aware that other sons will however survive bring the human species over through the millennia till the end of the world? Imagery is a means to match a pale connection with the viewer, and Mehrige wants to share this abominous destiny with the likes of him.
If our makers did exist and were so, then we shouldn't be surprised why Hell is on Earth and they like to watch our doom as we do when observing ants; consequently, we shouldn't be afraid of death; should another world/dimension exist, that couldn't be worse than ours (Hell). In an otherworldy dimension there could be nothing or there could be a better place/state, therefore my interpretation is a nihlistic one. If existance were pleasant, we'd go to the unconscious state unhappy and we'd go away from it happy, but it happens just the opposite and Mehrige wanted us to reflect about our lives, destinies and origins of sorrow if we haven't done before.
That's why I must say thanks to the crafter of such a therapeutical remarkable work of images..