Monday, January 24, 2011

The Human Centipede: Review

After engaging in online debate over this film, and after writing about it a few months ago, I thought I'd address it more fluently. If you haven't seen it, I'm not going to explain the plot... 

While generic in nature and structure, I do think the real question, "whether or not it's a good movie," is at least arguable, in a sense that it isn't seen as arguable to a lot of people.  At the very least, it should provoke much more thought than it conventionally has, and regardless of whether or not it's a "good movie," it's a damn interesting movie.  There seem to be some weighty concepts at play, buried behind a shock premise.  For one, this film is obviously centered around the works of Bataille.   I picked up on a lot of socialistic and animalistic concepts. For example, the head of the Centipede, the Japanese character, couldn't stand the thought of being animalized, thus the ultimate reason for his committing suicide. This obviously relates back to Bataille and the philosophical stance upon which the movie was based, or at the very least inspired. That is, humans are ultimately animalistic in nature, yet we attempt at all costs to deny it.  Bataille believed we spend our whole lives in aguish because if it. The Japanese character has no desire to exist as an animal, and even expresses his opposition to the idea, yet he regresses to an animalistic state when he attempts to bite out the doctor's throat near the end of the film.  When he realizes he's become what he never wanted to be, he slits his own throat rather than continue to endure the existence lying before him.  The self loathing the Japanese character feels towards himself is greater than any animosity he feels towards his captor.  And his self loathing isn't just because of what he's become; it's because of the misery and depravity and self-centerdeness he's known throughout the course of his life.  Ultimately, I think he views the centipede as his punishment, which would explain why he called the doctor "god."  

This brings me to the point of "why did the Japanese character kill himself?  Why didn't he continue to attack the doctor with the scalpel?"  Other than relating back to the retribution concept, I think the Japanese character thought, in a sense perhaps, it would be more painful for the doctor to watch his creation kill itself than killing the doctor directly.  We mustn't forget that though sick, the doctor risks everything to conduct this experiment. The reasons are never fully divulged, and this concept is never really explored, but through implication it seems clear to the audience that the doctor feels the need to transcend his own anguish, and in the process seek spirituality and become closer to the divine.  Whether the doctor understands this on a conscious level, or simply feels it, isn't particularly important. What is important is the idea that he would jeopardize his life, livelihood, freedom, and career reputation as the leading surgeon of his field to achieve this creation. Once again, this refers back to Bataille, and recalls the esoteric society which he helped found during the surrealist movement: the Acephale. The society's symbol was a headless man who represented the group's opposition to a "closed and stifling social existence," which could be viewed as transcendentalism:

The point is, the doctor sacrificed ultimately his life to create the centipede. Perhaps the Japanese character, through killing himself in front of the doctor, viewed this action as the ultimate way of crushing everything the doctor had risked so much for.

It's also worth noting that the doctor begins his experiments with animals, then moves to humans, acting as a mirror between Bataille's ideas about man and man's animal nature. 

There's also a theme of individuality, selfhood, and social interdependence. We see this in the fate that befalls the middle piece of the centipede...  complete surrendering of individuality and selfhood embodies the fate of the middle piece. The head and the tail are dead, and she is forced to acknowledge she is no longer an individual at all. She's part of an organism - a dead organism - and her fate seems painful and clear.  We also see this theme in the inability for any communication to take place between the head of the centipede and the doctor due to the language gap.  

doctor: German  Japanese Character: Japanese  Lindsay and Jenny: American

Despite its uniqueness, the film is full of cliches.  It has the mad doctor who preforms horrific experiments in his secret underground lab.  Two unintelligent American girls' car breaks down on a deserted street winding through the middle of the woods late at night. They don't have a signal on their cell phone, so they do what any logical person would do: begin wondering aimlessly through the woods until they come to a house.  Of course they enter the house, despite its owner being creepy enough to warrant any sane person's immediate departure (or more accurately, "running like hell to get the fuck out of there"). They accept drinks, which are drugged.  Yes... cliche.  But these contrivances are mostly found in the opening sequence of the film, which is deceptive because the rest is far more compelling.

As soon as they enter the doctor's house, the doctor takes advantage of the language barrier to humiliate and objectify them (without them knowing it).  This immediately foreshadows the dehumanization that's later to come.  

I think the cliche of the two American girls "randomly and spontaneously" showing up on the doctor's front porch, after being previously alluded to the doctor's plan to create the centipede (when we saw him looking at the photo of the dogs), played into the concept of the doctor being "brought" to do this, perhaps as part of his quest to seek the divine.  It's analogous, much in the same way, to John Doe being "called," in his mind by god, to carry out his series of seven in Se7en.  These girls just showed up.  Perhaps this was a sign to the doctor that his experiment was supposed to go forth.      

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