“All I want is to eat that arm and become like you”, DISTRICT 9 (Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

Back in 2009, fifteen years after the end of apartheid, South Africa seemed to be the obvious place to make movies that offered clear metaphors about racism and xenophobia. Today, they’d probably be filmed in Minneapolis, but nonetheless, after more than ten years, this movie works just as well, perhaps even better in this time, when people have to fight for their lives against both racism and an invasive disease.

DISTRICT 9 is directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson (yes, that Peter Jackson), and set in Johannesburg, South Africa. It is presented as “found footage” – fictional news stories, CCTV and interviews. District 9 is an internment camp for aliens – not from across the border or across the ocean, but across the universe. A giant UFO hovers above the city showing no signs of life, and when the authorities cut their way inside they find it is full of diseased and starving aliens, who look, as Roger Ebert said, like two metre tall lobsters. They are brought to land and housed in a secure area – District 9 – where they recover, and cause havoc with their love of wrecking stuff and eating lots of cat food.

pic-00006

Yes, it’s not without humour. There are “interviews” with people of different races, all saying that these aliens – now known universally as “prawns” – should be sent home or else taken out of the city, away from human contact. Resettlement camp, detention centre, ghetto – those who are different can be separated with just some pernicious circumlocution.

vlcsnap-00012

vlcsnap-00017

The movie follows Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a naïve and nerdy mid-level executive in a huge multi-national corporation called MNU (it stands for Multi National United), which supplies mercenaries for just such situations.

vlcsnap-00001

Wikus heads off with his army and a clipboard, believing that he is going to knock on doors and ask the “prawns” to agree to be moved to a new camp, whereas of course the whole process is aimed at intimidation and terrorising of the populace.

vlcsnap-00028

Searching one building, he finds a tube of alien fuel, which they have been synthesising for twenty years, planning an escape. He opens it, and it sprays all over him.

pic-00017

Soon, he starts metamorphosing into a “prawn” – his hand turns into an alien claw, and his teeth and nails start to fall out. This is obviously a big problem – actually two. First, his company, MNU, wants to cut him up and study his organs, desperate to learn how to transmute others, because the aliens have immensely powerful weapons that will only operate in the hands of someone with alien DNA. He escapes back to District 9, pursued by the sadistic head of the corporation’s private army, who personifies white supremacist violence.

pic-00035

Back in District 9, Wikus is captured by a Nigerian criminal gang, who make their fortune from the aliens, selling them cat food, and offering interspecies prostitution (delicately presented). The Nigerians’ leader, whose name is taken from that of a former President of Nigeria, also wants to control those weapons, and believes eating Wikus’ arm will make him part alien as well. Why not just eat a prawn? Oh, they’ve tried that.

pic-00040

The trope of cannibals taking on the strengths of those they eat has been around pretty much forever. It is used to explain both mortuary cannibalism, where the strength of the ancestors is passed to the descendants through their flesh, and also aggressive cannibalism where the legs of the fastest enemy, or the testicles – you get the idea. It revolves around the idea that “you are what you eat”, but if you believe that, well, what does that say about the trolls who love to write “But BACON!” on vegan social media sites?

The film was shot around Johannesburg, and the squalid hovels shown were in an area of Soweto that was being demolished and the people relocated. The story is based on the true case of District Six in Capetown, where 60,000 inhabitants were forcibly removed during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. But finding a parallel story of forced removals of oppressed populations would not be difficult in most of the world’s nations. A reviewer wrote in an article entitled “District 9 reveals human inhumanity”:

“Substitute “black,” “Asian,” “Mexican,” “illegal,” “Jew,” or any number of different labels for the word “prawn” in this film and you will hear the hidden truth behind the dialogue, echoing what we historically as a species are all too capable of doing.”

Several different facets of cannibalism are presented in District 9. The Nigerians eat “prawns” – is that cannibalism, or if not, what about their plan to eat Wikus as he transforms into a prawn? The big corporation is only interested in the billions of dollars that will come from working out how to operate the alien weapons, and are ready and willing to sacrifice Wikus and use his body parts in pursuit of this goal. The aliens are tall and powerful (pulling people limb from limb in a few scenes) and look a bit reminiscent of the creatures from the Alien movie franchise, even though they don’t eat each other or the humans; but  they are keen on meat from other species like pigs and goats and whoever ends up in the slurry called cat food.

pic-00019pic-00022pic-00023

The formal definition of cannibalism tries to restrict the definition to humans eating humans, but it is always leaking out the sides. What we see in this film is the way that anyone can be abused, objectified and even eaten if they can be reclassified as inhuman or subhuman. Wikus starts the story happy to burn down shacks full of alien eggs, enjoying the sound of the eggs bursting, which sounds like popcorn. Captured by the corporation and made to operate alien weapons, he is happy to destroy pigs but begs not to be made to shoot the aliens. Later, turning into a “prawn”, he is more than happy to use the alien weapons to blow apart various soldiers of his former employer, to protect the prawns. The irony of this film is that Wikus, who is a fully carnophallogocentric human in the terms used by Derrida (“adult white male, European, carnivorous and capable of sacrifice”), only finds his humanity when he begins morphing into something else and becomes one of the outsiders he previously disdained.

It’s well worth seeing – if you don’t dig the message, then there’s plenty of action scenes, car chases and explosions. Some unintended explosions after the movie, too, when the Nigerian Information Minister asked cinemas to ban the film because it depicted Nigerians as criminals and cannibals. Not the first time white people have applied those epithets against Africans, and the film also scored a mention in Salon’s list of “white saviour” movies, since Wikus is white, and desperate to remain so. But the Malawian actor, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, who played the gang leader, said that the Nigerians in the cast weren’t bothered: “It’s a story, you know. It’s not like Nigerians do eat aliens. Aliens don’t even exist in the first place.” Sensible, but not a great look for a film that is slamming racist stereotypes through the metaphor of speciesism.

pic-00001

The direction is adroit and the story buzzes along with never a dull moment. The acting is first rate, even the guys in the alien suits become sympathetic characters, and the special effects are first rate. The film has a 90% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s available on Netflix.

“Is Hannibal in love with me?” HANNIBAL 3:12 “The Number of the Beast Is 666”

The penultimate episode of Hannibal! You see, I thought if I dragged out these reviews, they would surely have a fourth series ready by the time I finished the whole 39 episodes (in three weeks from now); after all, I’ve been reviewing Hannibal episodes since October 2018! There is certainly talk of a fourth season or a movie, a discourse reignited by the fact that Netflix has just started streaming the series in the USA and some other countries (not Australia – here it’s on Stan).

#savehannibals4 

What do you do when you can’t go home?

It’s a very contemporary question, Hannibal has told us he cannot go home to Lithuania, although we don’t know why (but hopefully will find out in Season 4). But in this episode, made in 2015, the threat is not a pandemic but a serial killer, “The Great Red Dragon”, who slaughters families and puts broken pieces of mirror in their eyes so he can watch them watching him changing them. Will Graham’s family have fled after the killer came for them, their address supplied by the ever-helpful Hannibal. He told the Dragon “Save yourself. Kill them all”.

You and I don’t want to catch COVID-19, but Will certainly wants to catch the Dragon. But he is broken – his family is gone, in hiding, unlikely to see him again, or certainly not until the threat has been eliminated. In dreams, Will sees himself killing the Dragon’s victims, but each woman is his wife. This was Hannibal`s design. Will asks Bedelia:

vlcsnap-00027

vlcsnap-00028

Bedelia: “Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for you and find nourishment at the very sight of you? Yes. But do you ache for him?”

Bedelia is quoting, or paraphrasing, Dante, the sonnet that Hannibal quoted in the movie Hannibal to Inspector Pazzi’s wife, Allegra:

“He woke her then, and trembling and obedient, she ate that burning heart out of his hand. Weeping, I saw him then depart from me. Could he daily feel a stab of hunger for her? Find nourishment in the very sight of her? I think so. But would she see through the bars of his plight, and ache for him?”

Is Bedelia paraphrasing Dante because she also loves Hannibal? Or do all psychiatrists do a unit in fourteenth century Italian literature? We know her Italian is good enough to order Bâtard-Montrachet (Chardonnay) and tartufi bianchi (white truffles) – there’s a clue! Anyway, Bedelia now loves Hannibal being in the asylum – because he wants her dead, but only if he can do the actual killing,

vlcsnap-00019

Will is not contemplating love in any form, gustatory or otherwise, he is plotting destruction. As Hannibal puts it,

“Will’s thoughts are no more bound by fear or kindness than Milton’s were by physics.”

vlcsnap-00035

Well, now we’re getting somewhere, and it’s not medical but metaphysical. John Milton was a seventeenth century poet who wrote Paradise Lost, a fair description of Will’s current domestic situation – neither he, his wife or his step-son can go back to their idyllic estate until the Dragon is caught or, preferably, killed. Rather than getting lost in empathy, as he usually does, Will is now drowning in rage, and is “free and damned” – Hannibal is paraphrasing Sartre’s insistence that humans are “cursed with freedom” – other animals are bound by their instinct, but we always have to make choices, often between less than ideal options.

Hannibal sees Will more clearly than anyone, and quotes the Book of Revelations to Jack:

vlcsnap-00038vlcsnap-00041vlcsnap-00045

Yes, it’s Armageddon coming up – and it starts with confrontation. Will is going to make himself a target for the Dragon, to draw him out. He calls together Freddie Lounds, who will publish anything if it sells her magazine, and Frederick Chilton, who will spout his pop psychology to anyone in order to get publicity for his new book, which is called (honest) “Hannibal the Cannibal”. Chilton is furious with Hannibal for publically repudiating the book as nonsense, effectively disproving the insanity defence by which he was saved from execution. Why would Hannibal do that? Because Frederick doesn’t have “the proper stuff” to write about either Hannibal or the Dragon.

vlcsnap-00057vlcsnap-00058

Now he’s quoting Goethe. Imagine what else he could find to enrage people with if Alana hadn’t taken away all his books!

There are a lot of allusions in this episode, both to the Classics and to the Hannibal books, particularly Red Dragon – lot of the dialogue comes verbatim from that book, although often from different characters. There is a good analysis of the intertextualities on the Hannibal Fandom page.

During the interview, Will translates Frederick’s pretentious psychobabble into real insults, the ones that your regular alpha serial killer might reasonably object to:

vlcsnap-00075vlcsnap-00078

Then Freddie takes a photo, showing the Dragon where Will is, and with Will’s hand on Frederick’s shoulder.

vlcsnap-00084

Frederick has two security guards to ensure his safety, but their brains are splattered on the back of his car while he is still gloating on the phone about his new book. He is captured, and learns that the Dragon is “becoming”, he is “Other”

vlcsnap-00095

Hilariously, blind Reba comes to visit in the midst of Frederick’s torment. She can’t see Frederick (although she must be able to smell him; he’s been shitting himself since the Dragon took the stocking off his face), Frederick can’t say anything (or she’ll be killed) and the Dragon can’t hear her concern, her love, as she gives him some soup she made because he took the day off work. They are the three wise monkeys.

vlcsnap-00100

Yeah, it’s not the flu.

Like COVID-19, the Dragon’s psychopathy is worse than the flu. It’s more serious, and Frederick has caught it bad. He is shown slides of the Dragon’s work: before and after shots,

vlcsnap-00105

vlcsnap-00104

The Dragon opens his mouth and puts in his falsies, a set of his grandma’s dentures, the grandma who screwed him up by threatening to castrate him with her scissors when he was an incontinent little boy. He wears them whenever he goes killing. Both Hannibal and Freud would love to meet this guy.

vlcsnap-00122

He jumps over the couch, growling, a predatory animal, and bites off Frederick’s lips, which he posts to Hannibal, who in turn eats one of them.

vlcsnap-00133vlcsnap-00135

The Dragon sends the FBI a video of Chilton’s forced confession, including the screams during the lipectomy. Will is less than thrilled as he watches. But, as Bedelia tells him, quoting the words Hannibal used to her, “that’s participation”. Will knew what would happen: the Dragon always kills the pet first.

vlcsnap-00147

With that photo op, Will might as well have lit the match that sent Frederick, burning, rolling down the hill.

vlcsnap-00165vlcsnap-00173

Burnt flesh, eaten lips. At last, a trace of cannibalism. This is a cannibalism blog (I quickly remind you, and myself). And Hannibal never disappoints.

vlcsnap-00130

Next (and, sob, final) Hannibal blog in three weeks – June 28. 

 

Thank you!

This blog reviews films and TV shows involving human cannibalism. Sounds creepy, well, it is a bit, but it’s part of an exercise investigating how we decide what is edible and what is repulsive. Why are we happy to kill for food an animal that doesn’t want to die, yet unwilling to eat another animal that is already dead? Every work considered contributes to the answer to that question, some more than others of course.

Anyway, this post is to say thanks for reading this blog. In May, for the first time, the blog received well over 1,000 views, which is very exciting. As a special thank you, here is one of my favourite cannibal songs, by the wonderful Mr Tom Lehrer.

And remember:

Hannibal-only if equals

Eating Kramer – SEINFELD S09E01 “The Butter Shave”

“The Butter Shave” was the 157th episode of Seinfeld and the first of the ninth and final season, which aired in 1997.

We don’t find a lot of cannibal content in sitcoms as a rule, and Seinfeld does not often stray from that rule. But if anyone is going to be a cannibal, it would have to be Newman (Wayne Knight), with his voracious appetite.

Screenshot (209).png

In this episode, Kramer (Michael Richards) discovers that butter works better than shaving cream, leaving his skin so soft that he decides to spread it all over his body. Unfortunately, he falls asleep in the sun, and begins to cook.

Screenshot (215).png

Screenshot (216).png

Newman, who is reading Alive, a book about a true case of cannibalism, finds the smell of a buttered Kramer irresistible. Disturbed and muttering (see the clip above), Newman sees Kramer’s head on a turkey in Monk’s, panics, and runs out screaming as “Kramer” waves a wing at him.

Screenshot (231).png

Later, Kramer accidentally has oregano and Parmesan spilled on him, so Newman attempts to eat him.

Screenshot (244).png

There is also a cannibal reference two episodes later, when Lloyd Braun tells George that the phrase “serenity now”, which is supposed to reduce stress, just results in bottling up the anger so it explodes later.

George: I heard they found a family in your freezer.
Lloyd: Serenity now; insanity later.

 Seinfeld is streamed on Stan in Australia, and TVNZ in New Zealand.

Screenshot (229).png

 

Man-eating Mermaids: THE LURE (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Look, if you somehow managed to miss the Disney version of The Little Mermaid (1989) or the live action version in 2018, you were probably, as a defenceless child, read the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen story. A mermaid is an outsider – neither fish nor human. A sea creature, yet capable of living on the land as a two-legged person, and falling in love, and all those complications. She is often also mad, bad and dangerous to know.

vlcsnap-00003

vlcsnap-00004

The Lure is a Polish version of this mermaid myth, in which the mermaids, Golden and Silver, get a job in an adult entertainment nightclub (mermaids have beautiful voices – remember the “sirens” in Homer’s Odyssey?) and for part of the time, when not performing, they lure men to their deaths, and eat them. Love is tricky, since they are, in human form, devoid of genitals, but hey, pour a glass of water on them, or throw them into the swimming pool, and problem solved.

vlcsnap-00012

vlcsnap-00013

Is a mermaid eating a human really cannibalism? Well, they are half human, so I guess we could conclude that it’s half-cannibalism. As Hannibal Lecter said, “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”. They do seem to be mammals though.

vlcsnap-00055

Maybe they are whalemaids? Anyhoo, there’s that very long fish tail, that was a bit of a problem, even in 1837, but can be overcome – they can change. Silver loves the hot bass player and has her tail cut off, and legs grafted on. The Polish doctors seem to be pretty damn good at what would have to be considered very serious surgery.

vlcsnap-00075

vlcsnap-00082

vlcsnap-00084

What happens when you lose your tail – will you be accepted as “normal”? Well, ask any immigrant to anywhere – it’s not that easy. Silver loses not just her scales but her singing voice. The bassist digs her dedication to his love, but is disgusted when he tries to have sex with her and ends up covered in blood (definitely a risk if you have just had a WHOLE NEW LOWER BODY grafted onto your tummy).

The AV reviewer said the film “celebrates the animalistic, the feminine, and the intimate intersections between the two”. It does not resile from the blood or, indeed, their fishy smell, a popular misogynistic trope.

vlcsnap-00015

vlcsnap-00040

The changing body is not restricted to young mermaids, but is common to those suffering puberty. As the director Agnieszka Smoczynska said of becoming young women, “they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different”. And another problem, in terms of social acceptance, is their teeth, with which they tear people to pieces. Teenager girls can be so mean.

vlcsnap-00041

In the Disney version, Ariel becomes human and lives happily ever after (sorry, but not much of a spoiler – what do you expect from Disney?) This one is closer to the Andersen fairy tale, which means: much darker.

vlcsnap-00044

vlcsnap-00045

The prince marries someone else, and the mermaid can only recover her fishiness by eating him; if she doesn’t, she’ll become sea-foam. In this dissonant, modern version, the kingdom is the Warsaw nightclub, the prince is a bass player, and people get eaten – why waste a good corpse? The sea-foam – that, of course, is the constant of every good (and not so good) movie.

vlcsnap-00086

vlcsnap-00088

Anyway, this film is a hoot, and well worth seeking out (not so easy, but persevere). The Roger Ebert reviewer called it “sadly not as joyfully deranged as it could be”, but it has 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good!

vlcsnap-00091

The Lure is a movie that (hopefully) will leave you thinking about its themes long afterwards. Why can Silver not exist if her prince/guitarist marries someone else? Why does he only want her when her natural pudenda (in her tail) are removed and replaced with someone else’s, between human legs? Eating flesh makes the girls strong, but love can turn them into sea-foam? Like all cannibal movies (maybe all movies?) it’s all about fear and appetite. The club staff and patrons go wild with desire when the mermaid sisters sing, but they also fear and hate them for being different, for being monsters, and they are shamelessly exploited and underpaid. Go read Barbara Creed on female monsters – men don’t fear them because they appear to have been castrated as Freud thought, rather they dread them as castrators, the bearer of the toothed vagina, and of the womb from which we all come, and into which we subconsciously fear being reabsorbed, eaten and digested, until we, not Silver, are just sea-foam once again.

At the end of every good cannibal movie, we should leave the cinema (or nowadays the couch) asking, “who, exactly, was the monster?”

“…crazy sons of bitches” – HANNIBAL 3.11 “…And the Beast from the Sea”

Here’s a trivia question for the serious Hannibal aficionados: what is the name of
Will Graham’s son /step-son?
*Answer at the bottom of the blog.

Hannibal has been in a cell in the Asylum for the whole season, so not many people are getting eaten. Will is back in the game, desperately trying to catch the “Great Red Dragon”, who is certainly a biter, and a necrophile, but not so much a swallower of human flesh. But to understand why the GRD (Francis Dolarhyde) does what he does, and why Hannibal did what he used to do, we need to understand a bit about Hannibal’s Nietzschean understanding of the Übermensch (superman) and how, Will finally realises, he encourages his patients and acquaintances to “change” people as part of the development of the “higher self”.

The asylum security is surprisingly lax, considering Alana Bloom is in charge, and she is deeply motivated by the fact that Hannibal has promised to kill her as soon as he can. Nonetheless, calls come in from what appears to be Hannibal’s lawyer’s office and are patched through to his cell, and so he can happily chat to the GRD and give him advice on life, love, and killing, or what you might call “eat, prey, love”.

Dolarhyde is worried about his new girlfriend, and what the Dragon (his higher self) will do to her.

vlcsnap-00006

Like, frinstance, Will. Hannibal tells him: “He has a family. Save yourself.”

vlcsnap-00010

There’s always a problem bringing a classic story into the present day. Imagine Henry V with machine guns. Clarice Starling with a cell phone (“just on my way down the basement stairs now. Send a coupla dozen agents over stat”). Dolarhyde, in the book and films, was choosing his victims on the super-8 family movies he developed at work. Probably read telegrams too. But this is a new century – how does he choose them in 2015?

Indeed. Dolarhyde is watching videos of Will’s wife and step-son, Molly and Walter – Reba, who is blind, asks if these are his nocturnal animals? Yes. Do you think they know they’re being filmed? No.

vlcsnap-00011

Will has a vague idea he’s being played, but is clueless to what is really happening. He says he is not fortune’s fool, he is Hannibal’s fool, and that is certainly true. “Fortune’s fool” is a phrase Shakespeare liked a lot. It’s used in Romeo and Juliet, King Lear and Timon of Athens. Will hasn’t got his head around Hannibal’s coaching system yet, despite some very broad hints. He has worked out that he ran into Dolarhyde last episode at the museum because Hannibal planned it that way. Now he wants Hannibal’s help to identify the next family that Dolarhyde will kill, but he’s still not getting those broad hints from Hannibal about who that family might be.

vlcsnap-00015

Still clueless, Will asks, “you’re willing to let them die?”

vlcsnap-00019

vlcsnap-00020

Now Molly (Nina Arianda), Will’s wife (sorry Hannigrammers, he got married when we weren’t looking) is not fortune’s fool, and she’s not Hannibal’s either. It’s almost like she was expecting the GRD to come looking. She bundles her son out of the window, distracts Dolarhyde with the car alarm, flags down a passing car (in the middle of nowhere, mind you) and drives off as the Dragon shoots the driver. When Will visits her in hospital, she jokes about getting angry. She may be the best adjusted person in the whole series.

Anyway, Jack and Alana are woke to Hannibal’s little game now.

vlcsnap-00027

vlcsnap-00028

Mads Mikkelsen plays Hannibal as Satan, and Jack wants him to be the Devil’s advocate. They want Hannibal to talk to the GRD, keep him on the phone while they run a trace. What he says to Dolarhyde, though, is a direct line into Lecter/Nietzschean philosophy.

“You are the Dragon, you don’t have to be afraid. You know who speaks. From the beginning, you and the Dragon had been one. You are Becoming. And the Dragon is your higher self. Don’t let fear leach your strength. You are almost blind to your own true feelings. No more able to express them than a scar can blush.”

Dolarhyde is still worrying about Reba and his unlikely ability to be loved. “She called me a man! A sweet man!”

Hannibal talks just long enough for them to get a trace, but not to catch him, as he then warns Dolarhyde, just as he warned Garrett Jacob Hobbs in the very first episode of season one.

vlcsnap-00038

Will was already a bit upset at Hannibal…

Wonderful cartoon by “Nat Draws Stuff

But now, he’s back, and mad as a murder hornet!

vlcsnap-00045

This just gives Hannibal an opening for more philosophy.

“The essence of the worst in the human spirit is not found in the crazy sons of bitches. Ugliness is found in the faces of the crowd.”

The Dragon, Hannibal muses, “likely thinks you are as much a monster as you think he is.” Hannibal of course realises the “nice” Dolarhyde is trying to overcome the Red Dragon side of his personality, and Hannibal of course knows Goethe’s Faust off by heart:

“Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast, and one is striving to forsake its brother.”

The episode finishes with Hannibal offering Will friendship, absolution, the chance to start again.

“The Great Red Dragon is freedom to him. Shedding his skin. The sound of his voice. His own reflection. The building of a new body and the othering of himself, the splitting of his personality, all seem active and deliberate. He craves change.”

Will finally gets it: “He didn’t murder those families.”

vlcsnap-00065

vlcsnap-00066

 

* Will’s son/stepson? It’s a trick question – the little boy’s name keeps changing.

  • In the book Red Dragon, he’s Willy.
  • In the movie Manhunter, he’s Kevin.
  • In the film Red Dragon, he’s Josh.
  • In the TV series, he’s now Wally (Walter).

WTF? Almost a full circle.

Even the hockey mask has made a comeback.

vlcsnap-00042

Only two more episodes to go before the finale. Where, oh where, is Season 4?

#savehannibal

“FLESH EATING MOTHERS” (James Aviles Martin, 1989)

OK, I’m posting this on Mother’s Day, and a very happy occasion may it be for those who have a mother, particularly one who doesn’t routinely eat her children. But the film is also about a deadly virus, one which has been covered up by the authorities, so it’s not just schlock horror, but also somewhat prophetic.

vlcsnap-00005.jpg

This has it all: cannibalism, domestic violence, murder, lots of blood, adultery and filicide – yes, the mothers eat everything in the fridge and then start on their kids. Early in the piece, one mother stuffs a whole sandwich in her mouth (possibly the most abject scene) then starts on her son, who is still, absurdly, wearing his baseball mitt.

vlcsnap-00020.jpg

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

Her husband is a cop and manages to shoot her as she nominates him as main course, then he’s arrested, has to prove his innocence with the help of a scientist who is being stymied by official obstruction, and at this point there is a tendency to turn off and watch something else, particularly as the acting is so bad that one suspects it has to be deliberate.

This one literally is the best actor in the film:

vlcsnap-00027.jpg

vlcsnap-00031.jpg

vlcsnap-00032.jpg

You get the idea. One mother makes her son special creamy mashed potatoes, which he eats as she describes the process of producing milk-fed veal. Is there a message here – a cream-fed kid who is about to be her dinner?

“Milk-fed baby cows…. The calf is taken from the mother and put in a small room, so small that he can’t move around, see, so that his muscles are real tender. And they don’t feed him anything but milk, so that he’s really soft by the time they kill him. And so he’s really delicate to eat.”

She pours him another glass of milk.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

“Mom’s on the rag again” he complains to his friend after he escapes, adding that he doesn’t blame her: “it’s all society’s fault”.

The kids work out what’s going on and unite in opposition, but not until plenty of makeup and fake blood has been added to this powerful stew of nonsense.

vlcsnap-00037.jpg

vlcsnap-00041.jpg

vlcsnap-00046.jpg

“My mother ate my brother.”
“My mother too!”
“My mother ate my father.”
“She’s never done anything like this before!”

Look, it’s all very light-hearted, despite the R rating, and it’s a bit unfortunate that I decided to review it the week after one of the greatest cannibalism movies, Fritz Lang’s M. But there’s an important point here, for us keen Cannibal Studies scholars. So many cannibal films feature male cannibals, from Hans Beckert to Sweeney Todd to Hannibal Lecter. Yet as Barbara Creed told us in The Monstrous Feminine, published not long after this movie hit the big screen, mythical tales and modern horror films teem with female monsters. But the stereotype for cannibal films is the male cannibal and, often, the female victim. Where monsters are female, they often follow Freud’s odd designation of women as terrifying and abject because little boys are supposed to see their lack of a penis as proof their mothers were castrated. Thus, we get the dumb teenager saying “Mom’s on the rag again”. She is, even after trying to eat him, a victim in his eyes.

But Creed, and this film, argue that the female monster relates not to her lack but her centrality to reproduction and nurturing. Woman is the all-consuming womb, the witch, the vampire, the castrator rather than the castrated. We know we came out of her, and fear we may be reabsorbed. But hey, the scene of the battered wife eating the fist of her abusive husband fills us with a certain satisfaction.

vlcsnap-00044.jpg

Of the more than 300 films involving cannibalism that I will be discussing in this blog (eventually), only a handful involve female protagonists or even female directors. When they do, they are often presented as comedy as (I presume) this film is; films such as Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death or Santa Clarita Diet. Even in those, though, as in the more serious offerings such as Raw or Jennifer’s Body, cannibalism is presented as a form of empowerment, never as a lack.

Here’s the virus under a microscope.

vlcsnap-00045.jpg

The authorities knew about it, but kept it hidden, apparently because they thought it was a punishment for adultery. Plenty of Trump supporters who doubtlessly believe the same about COVID-19. Luckily, there’s a smart scientist with an instant vaccine.

vlcsnap-00047.jpg

This is a very silly movie, but it’s refreshing to see some women do the flesh-eating for a change.

Poster.jpg

Happy Mother’s Day!

Fritz Lang’s Cannibalism Masterpiece – “M – EINE STADT SUCHT EINEN MÖRDER”, (1931)

Fritz Lang considered this film to be his magnum opus. It regularly appears on lists of the best movies ever made, it was voted the best German film of all time by the Association of German Cinémathèques, and it is one of the few movies with 100% on the website Rotten Tomatoes. It set the standard by which police procedurals and serial killer stories would be judged for the next century. But is it a cannibal movie?

01.png

The story starts with a group of small children standing in a circle, and a little girl, Elsie, is choosing who is eliminated from the game, using a song:

“Soon will come the man in black for you…”

03.png

04.png

Ja, it’s a cannibal film. We don’t see anyone get eaten, but that is not unusual, particularly in the older films from the cannibal genre.

Elsie is heading home after school, bouncing her ball, past a poster seeking information about the murderer of eight children.

06.png

A nice man, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre in his first major film role), compliments her colourful ball and offers to buy her a balloon. He is whistling Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. The music is best known for its use in Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, which is not actually a cannibal story, but does involve a lot of stuff about trolls eating people.

Soon we see the ball rolling away, the balloon floating off, briefly caught on telegraph wires.

09.png

Like most modern cannibals since Jack The Ripper, the killer is indistinguishable from the rest of the public – just a normal guy (well, as normal as Peter Lorre could ever be).

13.png

The panic over the ninth murder makes everyone a suspect, particularly after Beckert writes to the papers, boasting that he’ll keep on killing.

11.png

12.png

vlcsnap-2020-04-26-22h18m29s472.png

The police raid the criminal underground every night, which is terrible for business.

14.png

16.png

The bar owner complains to the police that even the hardest working prostitute…

“hides a mother inside… I know many hard crooks whose eyes mist up looking at the little children playing.”

19.png

And so it goes. The coppers can’t catch him, so the underworld decides they will catch him, just so they can get back to business as usual.

vlcsnap-00007.jpg

The police have their own theories of why they cannot catch him:

“He’s not a real crook! Maybe he’s somebody who shows the harmless look of a good citizen who wouldn’t kill a fly.”

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

“If it wasn’t for this… apparent innocence of murderers, it would be unthinkable that a man like Grossmann* or Haarmann* could live for years next door to their neighbours, without raising any kind of suspicion”.

The police follow leads from the asylums; the crooks have other methods. Of course, everyone is a suspect, except – the beggars. The heads of the underworld offer them a reward to watch all the children of the city. Meanwhile, Beckert is watching little girls in shop window reflections.

vlcsnap-00022.jpg

The “M” of the title is chalked onto his coat by one of the beggars, as he is taking away his next child.

vlcsnap-00036.jpg

No more spoilers. Let us just say that the climax is a trial, in which Lang asks some hard questions about whether we are responsible for our actions, even when we cannot control our own minds.

vlcsnap-00044.jpg

vlcsnap-00063.jpg

vlcsnap-00110.jpg

The moral of the story is presented by Elsie’s mother, sitting outside the court, who says:

“This will not bring our children back to life. People should take better care of their children!”

Indeed.

No mention is made of the precise fate of the victims in the movie – Lang leaves that up to our imagination, and some knowledge of German serial killers of that time. They disappeared without trace for some days and…

21.jpg

*   Some critics and reviewers claim that M was based on serial killer Peter Kürten—the Vampire of Düsseldorf—whose murdered at least ten people including several children in the 1920s and achieving sexual climaxes from the killings, and from drinking the blood of some of the victims. He was also keen on writing to newspapers, as is depicted in the film. Kürten was beheaded in 1931 for his crimes, so would have been very much in the news at the time of the film’s creation.

Fritz Lang, however, in an interview in 1963 with film historian Gero Gandert, denied that M was based solely on Kürten

“At the time I decided to use the subject matter of M, there were many serial killers terrorizing Germany—Haarmann, Grossmann, Kürten, Denke”

The first two are actually mentioned in the film. Fritz Haarmann, known as the “Butcher of Hanover”, killed at least 24 boys and young men between 1918 and 1924, often by biting their throats, and then allegedly eating or selling the meat from their corpses as pork or horse-meat. Carl Großmann was arrested in 1921, a suspect in up to 100 murders of women and girls, whose flesh he was suspected of selling on the black market and from a hot-dog stand in Berlin during the Great War. Karl Denke killed and sold the flesh of dozens of homeless vagrants and travellers from 1903-1924.

The fact that Lang quoted those four serial killers as his models indicate that he certainly had cannibalism in mind when creating the role presented by Peter Lorre – the serial killer who cannot control his urges.

vlcsnap-00098.jpg

M is highly recommended as a classic, not just of the cannibal genre, but of cinematic art.

The full movie is currently available (and with excellent quality) on Youtube:

Essential worker cannibals: THE TIME MACHINE (Wells, 2002)

Those of us who can get away with it are locked up at home, some of us writing blogs. Meanwhile, outside in the world, the ‘essential workers’ – doctors, nurses, check-out operators, delivery drivers, teachers and, of course, hairdressers – have never been busier. We are splitting into two groups – the enforced idle, and those with hazardous, possibly lethal jobs, upon whom we rely. That will last, we are told, until a COVID-19 vaccine arrives, but those identities are already forged and will leave their cultural fossils behind. The idle, basking in their gardens (if they have them) and the toilers, looking after them. Both, of course, share the need to eat.

In 2011, Guy Standing released a book called The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.  It was about how a new class was being produced by neo-liberal capitalism – people whose jobs, lifestyles and sense of stability had been devastated by the imposition of the free market and globalisation. The divergence between rich and poor has never been greater, and not just in the “developed” nations. Workers everywhere are being cast down into poverty and despair, not just by their bosses, but by workers in other countries who are willing to work for a pittance. The precariat, said Standing, “are prone to listen to ugly voices, and to use their votes and money to give those voices a political platform of increasing influence”.

Neo-libs found a voice in Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and later the Tea Party in the USA. Trump, Putin and Brexit and fascist leaders in Hungary and Brazil rode to power as those ugly voices grew, looking for a scapegoat, an “other”, to blame. The splits in our societies continue to widen, so the ugly voices, and the hunger, increase. Fritz Lang in the film Metropolis (1927) told of workers being condemned to work in the dark caverns underground while the rich enjoyed life in skyscrapers.

What do these two trends have in common? Enforced idleness, medical or economic, and frantic toil, often with disproportionately meagre rewards, often in appalling conditions. The calls to strike out against real or imagined elites. It’s taken to its logical conclusion in THE TIME MACHINE, the original 1895 book by H.G. Wells, George Pal’s 1960 film, and this 2002 DreamWorks remake, directed by Simon Wells (the great-grandson of H.G.), which takes a new look at this story of human evolution. Where exactly are we heading?

In this version, unlike the original, “the Time Traveller” has a name: Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, associate professor of applied mechanics and engineering at Columbia University. He is played by Guy Pearce, an Aussie actor whom we know from Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Memento, Jack Irish and of course Neighbours. Pearce has also appeared in a couple of cannibal films, including the lead role in Ravenous and “the Veteran” in The Road.

vlcsnap-00079.jpg

Modern movies insist on specific and personal motivations – think of Sweeney Todd, who in Tim Burton’s 2007 version was motivated by revenge for his wrongful transportation to Australia while his wife and child were abducted by the judge. In the 1936 version, however, he was just a greedy bastard who liked killing people and stealing their goods (and selling their flesh). Just so, in this 2002 Time Machine, professor Hartdegen’s fiancé is murdered in a mugging gone wrong, and he is driven to invent a time machine to see if he can go back and save her.

In the book and the 1960 movie, the humans of the future had regressed, defying the then (and still) popular concept of a “great chain of being” in which evolution inexorably means progress to ever higher forms. This ideology had become known as “social Darwinism” although the assumption of progress would have baffled Charles Darwin, who saw evolution as natural selection of those species who best fitted an environment. Darwin did not, therefore, involve subjective terms like “progress” in his theories (much). In H.G.Wells’ vision, the effete ruling classes had become the beautiful but useless Eloi, who sat in a bucolic paradise picking flowers. They were, in turn, picked off at night for dinner by the cannibalistic Morlocks, descended from the workers, who had gone underground and were now subterranean predators, spooky, but easily defeated by shining lights in their eyes (or by the ham-like fists of Rod Taylor – another Aussie who played the Time Traveller in the 1960 movie).

vlcsnap-00012.jpg

But the Eloi of the year 802,701 in this 2002 version are a somewhat sterner lot, building sanctuaries high in the mountains to avoid the nocturnal depredations of the Morlocks, but fatalistically accepting what would probably happen to them one dark night.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

Hilariously, they have set up a shrine to the America of our time, and learn from childhood a perfect 21st century American English, taught by the film’s love interest (and damsel in distress) Mara (played by the Irish singer Samantha Mumba).

vlcsnap-00018.jpg

vlcsnap-00114.jpg

The Morlocks are a far more formidable foe too, appearing from the ground, in daylight, and capturing their prey with poisoned darts; they are immensely strong, not too smart, and hideously ugly. They are also, like the humans of the present and most other periods, voraciously hungry, and capable of eating all their supplies (roasted Eloi) at once if not controlled.

vlcsnap-00048.jpg

And here is the main interest in this story – the Morlocks are controlled, psychically, by an “Übermorlock” (Jeremy Irons, looking a lot like the late, great Tom Petty).

vlcsnap-00060.jpg

tom-petty-mn-02_6b4798f8561588a96f9500a199ee96b6.jpg

Civilisations, as this story illustrates, do not trend toward constant progress, but rise and fall in cycles, as John Gray has been trying to tell us,

“To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given to us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody today, but it is groundless.”

As if to prove this point, a quick trip to the year 635,427,810 shows a burning wasteland with armies of soldiers or slaves wandering in the desolation.

vlcsnap-00107.jpg

At their most perilous, civilisations turn to power-hungry dictators – think Caligula, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or the Übermorlock. They offer simplistic solutions to increasingly complex problems. Those solutions find a scapegoat, an alien group, an easy sacrifice, and death for those target populations is common, as is their consumption, if not as food, then as slaves.

vlcsnap-00070.jpg

The Übermorlock explains that the underground workers and the above ground hedonists evolved into two separate species, and that within his own type, castes developed – the brutish predators and the intelligentsia, who use mind control. The Eloi are simply “livestock” and the Übermorlock is unimpressed by our hero’s attempts to impose the anti-cannibal ethics of 800,000 years ago.

vlcsnap-00077.jpg

vlcsnap-00078.jpg

And is he wrong? Think of the COVID dialogues about letting the vulnerable old people die to allow the economy to grow.

vlcsnap-00021.jpg

Yes, the Morlocks, like humanoid coronaviruses, find it much easier to catch old people. The rest of the Eloi are allowed to get fat and sassy until time for slaughter – just like some seventy billion other animals we inculpably slaughter and eat every year. Hartdegen does not realise this until he falls into the Morlock waste processing system.

vlcsnap-00047.jpg

Are the Morlock’s evil? Perhaps by the standard of 20th century liberal humanism. In 800,000 years, or now if we choose, we may have other ideas.

vlcsnap-00075.jpg

Rotten Tomatoes gave it a paltry 29%, saying

“This Machine has all the razzle-dazzles of modern special effects, but the movie takes a turn for the worst when it switches from a story about lost love to a confusing action-thriller.”

Bit harsh, IMHO. The cast is good, the special effects great fun, and the reimagining of the story shows some interesting thoughts about evolution and human ethics. Entertaining and worth a look, I’d say.

“If we just do whatever evolution equipped us to do, murder and cannibalism are morally acceptable” – HANNIBAL 3:10 “…And the Woman Clothed in Sun”

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is a cannibalism blog, and yes, there were plenty of human body parts consumed in Hannibal Seasons 1 and 2. Season 3 is different, because Hannibal Lecter is locked up in the Baltimore Asylum for the Criminally Insane for most of it, so cannot offer us a lot of gastronomy. But there’s more to eating than flesh, and there’s more to Hannibal than just eating. Hannibal believes he is the Übermensch and so is all about becoming, and becoming requires the use of others to fuel his radiance, and the radiance of those he chooses to mentor.

In the previous episode, Francis Dolarhyde, a.k.a. The Tooth Fairy (Freddie’s name for him) or The Red Dragon (his own preferred moniker) had killed two families, each event happening on the full moon. Besides the date, though, there seemed to be nothing in common between the victims, so Jack called on Will, and Will called on Hannibal, to get the old murder scent.

In this episode, Francis finally contacts Hannibal, breaking into the office of Hannibal`s lawyer so the call will go through to Hannibal’s cell. He visualises Hannibal in suit and tie, a master rather than a captive. He wants to be recognised by Hannibal in his becoming of the Great Red Dragon, he wants to “meld” with Hannibal (eat him). Hannibal is happy to play along, stroking the killer’s ego, telling him how magnificent he is, quoting Blake, who of course painted the Great Red Dragon in the early 19th century.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

vlcsnap-00015.jpg

Bedelia is back in town, no longer claiming to be Mrs Fell, now being bugged by Will Graham to admit she lied about her identity confusion. But she has her own philosophy of subjectivity now. She tells Will, and an adoring audience of psychiatrists (?) that everything we see and believe about ourselves is just a mental construction. When she was under the control of Hannibal, she was metaphorically in Hell – Hell before Dante turned it into an urban environment, Hell when it was portrayed not as the “gates of Hell” but the “mouth of Hell”

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

Will scorns her story of…

“suffering inside Hannibal Lecter’s bowels for what must have felt like an eternity”

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

vlcsnap-00028.jpg

Thank goodness, we finally got to the alimentary canal.

Francis, meanwhile, is trying to go straight, falling in love with Reba, his blind colleague, who cannot see what, he imagines, is his abhorrent deformity. He takes her to a zoo to feel a sedated tiger, tying her to another Blake image:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

vlcsnap-00033.jpg

Just as Reba can ‘see’ the tiger with her hands, so she can see the radiance (or at least the nice part) of Francis, with those same hands, which she proceeds to use to seduce him, when they get home. He experiences probably his first time with a woman that does not involve blood and biting and broken mirrors in eye-sockets; he is falling in love. She is part of his fantasy now – if he is the Dragon, she is the “woman clothed in the sun”

vlcsnap-00038.jpg

He decides to solve the problem of the Dragon, who is not going to want him to get all soft and mushy, the way Hannibal solves a problem – by eating it. He tricks his way into the National Gallery of Art and eats the original Blake painting, stopping on the way out to beat the shit out of Will, who has come to find out about this Red Dragon business.

Bedelia has told Will to make an appointment and guess what – he did! Now they spar in easy chairs in her office.

vlcsnap-00040.jpg

B: I can’t blame him for doing what evolution has equipped him to do.
W: If we just do whatever evolution equipped us to do, murder and cannibalism are morally acceptable.
B: They are acceptable, to murderers and cannibals.

The moral of the story, children, is that we are all capable of love and mercy, and capable of murder and cannibalism. Bedelia has a flash-back to killing a patient sent to her by Hannibal, no doubt to see if she would help him or save him. She explains this theory to Will, in one of the seminal aphorisms of the series. She asks Will what he thinks if he sees a wounded bird on the grass. Will would see the bird as vulnerable, and try to save her.

vlcsnap-00064.jpg

vlcsnap-00065.jpg

vlcsnap-00066.jpg

“A primal rejection of weakness which is every bit as natural as the nurturing instinct. Of course, I wouldn’t crush it, but my first thought is to do just that.”

Hannibal explains Blake’s Red Dragon to Will, and to us. The Dragon stands over a pleading woman who is caught in his tail. Few images in Western art radiate such a unique and…

vlcsnap-00090.jpg

“I like this dragon Will. I don’t think he’s crazy at all. I think he might be quite sane. A magnificent thing, to watch the world through his red haze.”

The_Great_Red_Dragon_and_the_Woman_Clothed_with_the_Sun.jpg