Rake was a television series which first aired on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission for those of you in other parts of the world) in 2010. It ran for four seasons, which is pretty impressive, although Australian series are generally much shorter than those from the US – each season was only eight episodes, making 32 episodes in total, not much longer than season 3 of Lucifer (24 episodes).
Richard Roxburgh is superb as Cleaver Greene, a brilliant Sydney barrister who is always in trouble due to his predilection for the good life. A Sydney Morning Herald reviewer said of the show “Cleaver Greene is a magnificent comic creation, but you wouldn’t want him staying in your place too long.” Incidentally, the Americans had a go at making a version of it with Greg Kinnear as the “rake” but, without the laconic Aussie humour, it only lasted one season (of 13 episodes mind you).
Season 1 Episode 1 starts with a bang – the guest star is the superb Hugo Weaving (Elrond for Tolkien fans) who is a prominent economist with a habit that gets him into trouble: he is a cannibal. Turns out that he advertised for someone who wanted to be eaten (I’m not making this up – there are enough people out there who like this idea that the psychologists have coined a word, vorarephilia, which the enthusiasts have shortened to “vore”).
Like all truly unbelievable plots, this one is based on a true story. Armin Meiwes, a German computer technician, advertised on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café (not to be confused with the popular Vancouver restaurant) for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. He actually received a heap of replies, but the only one that seemed sincere was Jürgen Brandes. The two met in 2001, Brandes took a lot of sleeping pills and half a bottle of schnapps, and they collaboratively sliced off Brandes’ penis and tried, unsuccessfully, to eat it with salt, pepper, wine, and garlic (it ended up in the dog’s bowl. Hope the dog was OK – garlic can be poison for them). Brandes went off to die in the bath while Meiwes read a Star Trek novel (well, he showed some good taste there) and, when he found Brandes still alive hours later, killed him and proceeded to eat quite a lot of him over the coming weeks and months.
Rake doesn’t have that sort of time to waste (or presumably any Star Trek novels) so they simplified the plot – the defendant’s meal-ticket makes a video of himself taking a lethal dose of drugs, and he is definitely dead when Hugo’s character chops him up to fridge-sized portions. Where life and art meet is that in Germany, and in New South Wales, and pretty much everywhere else in the world, there is no actual law against cannibalism. Meiwes was charged with manslaughter as he had killed Brandes (at his request – a kind of assisted suicide), and was sentenced to eight years. Due to the ensuing publicity, a retrial was ordered and he was convicted of murder, on the grounds that he had talked Brandes into letting him kill him, for his own sexual pleasure.
In Rake, there is no such complication. The dude was dead at dinner time, and the case only becomes a murder trial because there is a State election coming up and the government needs to appear tough on cannibals. However, it is clear that there is no evidence for murder – you cannot really murder dead people. Hugo looks forward to his release, but as Cleaver points out “you ate someone. You’re never going home”.
Cannibalism is seen as so abject, so vile, that there is no chance of the cannibal going home, even when he clearly is not a murderer, and is guilty at worst of defiling a corpse. Yet why is it so? Eating a cow or sheep or pig who clearly wants to live (watch any one of thousands of Youtube abattoir clips) is fine, but eating a person who wanted, longed, to be eaten is grounds for being locked up for life.
“What could be more natural than wanting to consume human flesh? It combines our two most primal instincts into one single act…. you go that one tiny step further and we’re considered vampires, monsters that should be consigned into eternal darkness. It’s the worst sort of hypocrisy.”
Incidentally, Armin Meiwes is still in jail, this time under a life sentence. He now claims to be a vegetarian, and runs the local prison chapter of the Greens Party. I guess eating someone can make you think twice about eating meat.