“Like a flame burning away the darkness
Life is flesh on bone convulsing above the ground.”

What is this and why should you care?  There aren’t a lot of films which can impact the desensitized, cynical soul of an internet veteran.  This is where we look at those things.

Begotten is a much lauded experimental horror film from the 1990s, a labor of love by director E Elias Mehinge.  This is the part of the review where the quote “one of the 10 most important films of the modern times” by Susan Sontag is trotted out.  Does the film live up to the reputation?  On some levels, it does.  A man graphically disembowels himself, a woman masturbates his half living corpse to climax and then impregnates herself with the issue, a man-child is repeatedly, savagely beaten.  And more!  The haunting, grimy film style (reportedly 10 hours of post production work for each minute of film) will stay with you, but as a cohesive whole the film largely fails to captivate, with moments of brilliance sandwiched by minutes of tedium.

There isn’t a single spoken word throughout, not even a named character until the cast card at the end reveals the characters and gives the audience a chance to try and fit meaning to the 115 minute trial they’ve just endured.  Is it worth it?  Can the astute viewer extract enough meaning, or the patient viewer entertainment to make the experience worthwhile?

Are you there, God, it's me, straight razor.

Are you there, God? it’s me, straight razor.

Probably not.  But let’s go deeper and see what we can get.

Before we delve into the plot, a bird’s eye view of the experience:  there isn’t a scene that doesn’t feature droning repetitive sounds and droning repetitive motion.  Most of the shots are too close to make out exactly what’s going on, and with the overexposed black and white color, it’s too easy to lose track of what we’re watching.  The acts of this film, there are 4, are each over twenty minutes long, and when losing oneself in the repeating sounds, the repeating images, it is easy to lose a sense of time.  How long have I been watching a man epileptically thrusting a straight razor into his own stomach?  One might ask oneself.  How long have these men been gang raping this woman?


This is the film at its best, forcing the viewer to struggle with his own experience.  But we’re ahead of ourselves.  Gentle readers, I suggest you read elsewhere.  There will be graphic depictions of the horrors mentioned above.  For the rest of us: deep breath, here we go.


it's not weird, he's already dead

It’s not weird, he’s already dead

The first act focuses on a character later revealed to be named God Killing Himself.  He sits in a chair, seizes, rocking back and forth, spastically.  He thrusts a straight razor into his stomach, over and over, we focus on the fluids leaking from his ravaged belly as he plucks organs from the ragged hole.  He seems to be in pain, but goes back, slicing over and over, until he’s immobile.  We watch gore drip to his feet for what feels like minutes.  A woman, Mother Earth, rises from below his body, and after looking to the skies, clutching her breasts, she masturbates God’s blood covered phallus to orgasm.  She massages the discharge into her stomach, and then into her vagina.  Finally, she wanders a barren landscape, pregnant.


Still with me?  We’re 13 minutes into Begotten.  Remember: I’ve somewhat spoiled the experience by revealing the character names.  Imagine witnessing what I’ve just described on your first watch-through, where you don’t know the characters’ names.  You’ve just watched a man commit violent, moist, suicide, and then a woman impregnate herself via his still warm corpse.  You have no context.




he's like the energizer bunny

He’s like the energizer bunny

In the second act, we’re introduced to Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone.  He’s seemingly been born fully formed, covered in a thick layer of clay, and still connected (briefly), umbilically to Mother Earth.  Son of Earth jerks spastically, perhaps mirroring the death shudders of God Killing Himself.  Son of Earth is visited by hooded men, maybe seven, carrying unidentifiable censers, chimes, amulets.  They noose the umbilicus around Son of Earth’s neck, and using it begin dragging and carrying his seizing body across the barren landscape.  They struggle at length to drag him up a steep cliff, and during the struggle he regurgitates organs.  He never ceases the rhythmic shuddering.  Finally, the men return to dragging him up the cliffside, and after an excruciating quarter hour (or so) manage to do so.  There, they throw the Son of Man into a fire.  He’s revealed, a relentlessly seizing nude man.  In the burning he’s become unnoosed.


In the third act, Son of Man is renoosed, and Mother Earth is dragging him alone through a forest of bare tree-poles.  Whether it is winter, or they have been stripped purposefully is impossible to tell.  Three men in ragged robes meet the Mother and Son.  She’s wearing a blindfold, dragging him by the neck, and he continues to spasm uncontrollably.  They club his head with their staves.  They molest him.  They strip her naked.  They rape her.  They rape her with their staves.  She seems dead, but they continue pounding her corpse with a log, which seems to ejaculate.  There is a particularly graphic sequence which features a close up of this woman’s naked vagina, and a penis or stick crashing into her with the same repetitive jerking as all of the other motion in the film.  Son of Man is left with her savaged corpse, clutching her leg.


now I have rape.gif on my server

Now I have rape.gif on my server

In the final act, the three men take her body from Son, and bring her to what seems to be a quarry, where she is dismembered.  Her body parts are thrown into a basket.  Later, Son of Man struggles, wormlike, across a desert.   He’s captured by the ragged men, they club him with a huge hammer.  Organs (hers?) are thrown into a bag, and ground into the dirt.  We see water flowing, plants growing.  The final shot of the film, just for a moment, Mother Earth is again dragging Son of Man by the neck.


And that is where the film ends.  I’ve highlighted, naturally, the more memorable moments.  But the breaks between the compelling moments grow longer as the film goes on, and by the end the viewer cannot help but be lost in the tedium.  The long stretches of repetitively betray the lack of substance.





ending on a high note

Ending on a high note

Many reviewers have since claimed the film to be a Rorschach test for the viewer, but I don’t believe it.  I doubt that many will find significantly different analyses of the plot: this is a creation myth, where God sacrifices himself to give power to Mother Earth, who sacrifices herself to give birth to Man, who massacres her.  Human mythology is often as gruesome as this film: Osiris is dismembered, Izanagi ejaculates the holy land, Christ is crucified; we just aren’t as often exposed to these things in visual form.

Regardless: the film does not entertain throughout, and in failing to do so commits the most fundamental crime that a film can.  It bores.  Looking back on watching this three times for the purpose of this article I’m confident that I was bored all three times.  At the same time it was thought provoking, and in an age where films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre can be considered a fun, light slasher flick, being truly challenged by a film is a rare treat.

On a scale of 1 to AWESOME this movie is like being crucified.  It hurts a lot at first, but after you’re acclimated to the initial shock you’ll probably get bored as you wait to die.  If somehow you survive you’ll never forget being crucified, but you’ll question: whether the feeling of toughness you’ve gained was really worth it.