BEGOTTEN (1990) – Written and directed by E. E. Merhige, this black and white art film runs 72 minutes. Merhige later directed Shadow of the Vampire, a surreal horror movie about the making of the silent film Nosferatu.
Begotten was grandly described by its creator as a depiction of “the death and rebirth of gods.” If that didn’t make critics and viewers of the time want to belt Merhige in his pretentious face then the movie itself did. Okay, I’m largely just joking with that remark, but I’m sincere when I say that Begotten IS one of those experimental films that practically dares viewers to dismiss it as nonsense masquerading as art.
I like Begotten but if I was doing a promo blurb for it I would avoid its director’s lofty tagline and instead use something like “It begins with God committing suicide … Then it gets weird.”
The opening several minutes of this movie – the portion where God does indeed kill itself – have been all over YouTube for well over a decade. The footage seems to have inspired many of the creepy, black and white, nonsensically macabre videos that uploaders post when trying to start an Alternate Reality Game or just to get easy hits from sheer weirdness. (Think of Plague Doctor masks and such.)
Begotten gets rolling with the scene featuring an amorphous writhing mass that we later learn is “God” committing suicide with a straight-razor to its gut. After a messy disembowelment – the main reason behind the footage’s popularity on YouTube – another jerky, spasmodic figure comes along. We later learn this is “Mother Earth.”
Mother Earth gives God’s corpse a hand-job and uses the resultant flow of celestial semen to impregnate herself. As happens, y’know. She subsequently gives ugly, convulsive birth to yet another twitchy and spasmodic humanoid form. This figure is revealed in the credits to be “Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone.” Well, duh!
The rest of the movie depicts Mother Earth and Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone wandering a magnificently-rendered, eerie landscape that is more alien than earthly. In their wanderings the two peaceful figures are repeatedly attacked, raped and tortured by scattered tribes of even MORE twitchy, spasmodic humanoid figures. Periodically Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone vomits up some of his internal organs while being assaulted.
This goes on for the rest of the film with occasional bits featuring Mother Earth dragging her son along behind her via a noose she loops around his neck. Said noose is reminiscent of an umbilical cord. Eventually smaller plant life begins to form on the planet in addition to the trees which have been there all along. The End. Really. And the closing credits at last reveal who the “main characters” were.
It may not seem like it but I’m one of this film’s defenders. It just helps to have a sense of humor about these things rather than snobbishly insist other people are “stupid” if they don’t like a cinematic oddity like Begotten.
I presented E. E. Merhige’s interpretation of the story as we went along, but on a first viewing not everyone has the luxury of knowing that. The most justifiable criticism of movies like this is that they are really just Rorschach Tests in cinematic form. The feeling is that the viewers do the creator’s job for them by filling in whatever profound meanings they can come up with on their own. And there is no arguing with that. But there’s also no reason not to acknowledge the writer and director’s vision.
Since I’m a mythology geek I’m used to the way the death and destruction – self-inflicted or otherwise – of a primordial deity is often the starting point of a creation myth, with the rest of creation happening around that catalytic event. So I didn’t find Merhige’s explanation to be as much of a “pack of gobbledy-goop” as many other viewers and critics did.
Even if you’re not on board with the writer/ director’s vision there’s no reason not to soak in the twisted, macabre and disturbing visuals in Begotten. Merhige does commit to his premise and the film never strays from it, so he’s not guilty of just throwing a bunch of unrelated weird scenes at the viewer like some “arty” directors do. Remember all the imitation Un Chien Andalou movies?
At times the movie feels like you’re watching satellite footage of strange alien life-forms on a far-distant planet as they go about their incomprehensible behavior patterns. All while passing through their equally incomprehensible life-cycle. Elements of Prometheus seem inspired by Begotten.
I don’t consider Begotten to be as good as other black and white experimental films like Eraserhead or Tetsuo but it is better than efforts like Pig and is definitely worth at least one viewing. Be forewarned that it’s relentlessly downbeat, so after you watch Begotten you may want to unwind with something a little more light-hearted, like Viva La Muerte.
FOR MORE HORROR FILMS THAT TEST THE BOUNDARIES CLICK HERE
AND FOR LESS BIZARRE VERSIONS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2012/10/23/four-gruesome-but-neglected-horror-films/
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