THE CANNIBAL CLUB – O Clube dos Canibais (Guto Parente, 2018)

This is a movie about privilege – the rich literally eating the poor. It may be a metaphor, but it is particularly apposite to current Brazilian politics, where the destruction of the Amazon is threatening to kill and consume us all. But is there a nation, even a community, where someone is not eating someone else, if not literally then practically? The film was made in 2018, before President Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in and gave the green light for the burning of the Amazon rainforest. But the cannibalism of this club is not just political – it is about the consumption of the poor by those who own the wealth. It would have made the same points whatever the results of the election.

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Otavio (Tavinho Teixeira) and Gilda (Ana Luiza Rois) have a hobby – Gilda seduces members of their staff and Otavio watches from a distance then kills the worker with an axe as they both climax. They then prepare the meat for their dinner.

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A bit over a year ago, this blog looked at the film “Eat the Rich”, in which the workers fought back against their effete bosses. Pure fantasy of course; in reality, the rich eat the poor: they swallow their surplus labour, they squeeze rent from them, they sell them their shoddy products paid for by lending them money at ruinous rates, and they send their children off to war. Why not go the next step and literally cook them for dinner?

The rich also hang out together with other rich people, and despise the poor. Everything decadent is considered better and more desirable.

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The club in the title is an elite group of privileged and powerful men – women are not invited. For their pre-dinner entertainment, they sit and watch two performers have sex, during which they are beaten to death and subsequently served at the black-tie dinner.

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Their chairman is the influential politician Borges (Pedro Domingues) who rails against the depravity of those who threaten the traditional morality of Brazil, whom he describes as “poors, delinquents, pederasts and filthy scum”. That makes is awkward when Borges is seen by Gilda as he is being buggered by a servant.

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This puts Otavio and Gilda in peril – they have a secret that Borges will happily kill to conceal. But can they kill Borges first? In the funniest line of the movie, Otavio objects to Gilda’s murderous plan:

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Because to the rich, killing and eating the servants is no more murder than beheading a chicken. So they plan to get the new caretaker, Jonas (Zé Maria) to do the dirty work, then they will go through their ritual: Jonas will have sex with Gilda, then at the climax, Otavio will kill him with an axe.

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Of course, these things never go as smoothly as the conspirators wish.

It’s pretty slapstick cannibalism, which is a shame, because it’s a Brazilian film, and that should make it a bit more interesting – Brazil was the source of so many of the stories of cannibalism that early explorers brought back to shock the gentle folk of Europe and secure funds for journeys of colonialism and genocide. The Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, in his book Cannibal Metaphysics (2014), sought to ‘decolonise’ anthropology by challenging the increasingly familiar view that these stories were mere fictions of colonialism. Rather than deny the existence of cannibalism, which would simply reclassify the Amerindian peoples as ‘like us’, de Castro examines the details of Tupinamba cannibalism, which was ‘a very elaborate system for the capture, execution, and ceremonial consumption of their enemies’. This alternative view of Amerindian culture rejects the automatic assumption of the repugnance of cannibalism – instead, it owns the history or mythology. This could have been a far more interesting film if the cannibalism had been owned by all sides and interpreted as a unique identity, rather than just being a rather crude metaphor of class struggle.

The film got 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is not bad, but not good. The reviewer from Variety said

“A diverting, stylish, but ultimately rather trite satire whose social critique and grand guignol aspects never quite come to a full boil.”

By the way – check out the Cannibal Club in Los Angeles.

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No, I haven’t been there. I understand they do not have a vegetarian option.

Also, it’s a fake website. Sorry.

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The Cannibal as superhero – “HE NEVER DIED” (Jason Krawczyk, 2015)

This is a smart, sassy and quite funny cannibal movie, which does not conform to most genre rules. I wanted to review it now, because the next movie in the series (not exactly a sequel), She Never Died, is going to be released this year.

The protagonist (I won’t say hero, even though modern superheroes shares a lot of his alienation and angst) is Jack (Henry Rollins). Rollins is wonderful in the role, making the film seem a lot less silly than it really is. The critic from rogerebert.com said:

“You don’t need to know anything about Henry Rollins to appreciate his tongue-noticeably-in-cheek action hero performance in horror/superhero genre hybrid “He Never Died.

Unlike most superheroes, Jack is immortal, indestructible, and a cannibal. As a result of the first, he is deeply depressed, and as a result of the third, he has found a quiet routine (watching TV, playing bingo at the church hall) to keep his cannibalistic tendencies under control. Why bingo?

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As a cannibal who doesn’t want to eat people, he has to buy blood from a hospital intern. A couple of thugs come looking for the intern but Jack beats them up and throws them out. When they find the intern, Jack rescues him, because he needs the blood. It satisfies his cravings, without actually having to kill anyone.

Then he discovers he has a daughter from a failed marriage. Andrea (Jordan Todosey from Degrassi) has her own problems with alcohol. Everybody has problems involving consumption, but isn’t that universal? She also asks a lot of questions. She is surprised when Jack says he doesn’t eat meat, I guess he looks pretty macho, and meat is so – well – culturally male.

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Which is weird since he eats blood all the time. Sort of a reverse kosher rule I guess. Andrea asks if she can stay with him for a few days, which is another problem for his routine. Don’t we all sometimes wake up at night with the munchies?

When the thugs come looking for Jack, he tears the throat out of one of them, and eats it. It revives his hunger for flesh.

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Jack then eats a particularly obnoxious neighbour. He walks the streets looking for people who deserve to be eaten (a bit like Sheila from The Santa Clarita Diet). He drops a wad of cash, but the proposed victim hurries to return it to him, making him apparently ineligible for consumption. He bumps into the leader of a gang of men on a dark street, but the man apologises, much to Jack’s disappointment. Luckily, he vomits on a bunch of street toughs, one of whom is aggressive enough and old enough to eat. Yes, there is also an age-limit to his cannibalism.

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When he goes back to the diner, he is no longer a vegetarian. Well, cannibalism will do that. Lévi-Strauss wrote in “A Lesson in Wisdom from Mad Cows” about the link between a meat-based diet and cannibalism.

“The link between a meat-based diet and cannibalism (a notion broadened to take on a certain universality) thus has very deep roots in thought…. Indeed, a day may come when the idea that human beings in the past raised and slaughtered living things for food and complacently displayed slabs of their flesh in shop windows will inspire the same revulsion as what travellers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries felt about the cannibal meals of American, Oceanian, or African indigenous peoples.”

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So, in life there’s appetite, and there’s love. A phone message informs Jack that Andrea has been kidnapped and her mother killed, but he hardly reacts, doesn’t even go to the assigned rendezvous. But then Jack walks home Cara, the waitress from the diner (Kate Greenhouse), and is surprised by a sudden show of affection.

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He rushes home, intent on going back to his peaceful life of drinking blood and not killing people, but spills the last bag of blood all over the floor. He tries to lick it up, sponges up what he can, squeezes it into a glass, but it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

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When the bad guys turn up at the diner and kill the boss, Jack wipes them out, snacks on parts of them, and goes looking for his daughter. Love, supported by appetite.

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He gets shot in the head and has to borrow Cara’s toolkit to get the bullet out, because otherwise it will heal over and he’ll get migraines. She is starting to realise he is not what she expected.

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So we find out what we sort of knew from the unfortunate, spoiler title of the movie:

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Yes, Jack is Cain, son of Adam and Eve, who killed his brother Abel and has been cursed to wander the planet ever since. Cain makes another appearance in the TV series Lucifer, but not as a cannibal, so outside the scope of this blog. Good show though.

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The bad guys have turned Jack back into one of them. But there’s all sorts of dodgy metaphysical questions raised, most of which don’t get answered. Since when is Cain a cannibal? Why has he been involved in famines and massacres throughout history? Who is the dude in the pork pie hat who appears only to Jack?

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Cain was a peaceful grower of crops, a tiller of the land, while Abel was a shepherd, presumably killing his lambs for his sacrifice. How does that make Cain the bad guy in the argument? Anyway, why do we need a reason for Jack’s cannibalism: a divine punishment? Can’t it be enough that he just is the way he is? As Hannibal says: “nothing happened to me, Agent Starling. I happened.”

Jack cannot die, and cannot live without being a cannibal.

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But isn’t that the story of Homo sapiens?

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The movie has 87% “fresh” rating on the Tomatometer.

 

Apologies to those who noticed that I mentioned in last week’s blog that the next review would be Beneath the Planet of the Apes. An otherwise excellent academic text on cannibalism spoke of “an underground tribe of post-apocalyptic mutant cannibals” in that film, so I eagerly watched the whole turgid 1.5 hours. Not a sign of cannibalism anywhere. It was, in fact, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, so it has moved all my other bad movies up one notch. Every cloud…
Next week: COPYCAT KILLERS episode 8: “A real life Hannibal Lecter comes to light.”

T-E-A-M spells MEAT “Corporate Animals” (Patrick Brice, 2019)

“There’s no “I” in TEAM. But if you swap the letters around, it spells MEAT”

Last week’s blog was a psychotic serial killer based on the case of a real psychotic serial killer, so maybe a bit of comedy to lighten the mood this week? Cannibal comedy of course. This is a cannibal blog.

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Corporate Animals opened at Sundance in January 2019 and in selected cinemas in September, so it’s right up to date, both in its release and its message. When you google “cannibalism”, you will get lots of flesh-eaters, but also lots of stories about businesses swallowing competitors or smaller subsidiaries – which is often described as “corporate cannibalism”. To Marxists, of course, the relations of capital to its workers has always implied a type of cannibalism – production is supplied by the labourer but owned by the corporation, and surplus value is syphoned off, consumed, before payday.

Corporate Animals is a story about a rapacious business owner, Lucy (a wonderful performance by Demi Moore), whose main product is edible cutlery.

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Lucy wants to revive her failing company by taking the staff on a team-building expedition, caving in New Mexico. Team building is about conquering fear, and so she takes them on an extreme caving expedition, despite their fears.

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A “geological incident” (an earthquake and rock fall) kills their guide Brandon (Ed Helms from The Daily Show and The Office) and leaves them stranded in the cave. A perfect opportunity for team building and positive thinking.

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Instead, they can only think about imminent death, which makes them both hungry and, as Jess (Jessica Williams from The Daily Show and 2 Dope Queens) points out, also super-horny. Lucy takes charge here too

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Which leads to a discussion of power and exploitation and the coining of a wonderful word

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The heart of the film (I’m trying to avoid the cannibal puns, but it’s hard to resist) is the debate. As they get to day five without food or water, they start to discuss the elephant in the room, which is the dead guide.

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Lucy expresses disgust, and they all agree.

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The debate is a spoof on a few cannibal films, most notably Alive! In which Ethan Hawke’s character suggests eating the pilots of their plane who were killed in the crash which left the others in the snow on top of the Andes.

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There is also (I presume) a reference to Snowpiercer, when Lucy suggests that they are hungry enough to eat someone, it’s

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Then they get this idea mixed up with the movie 127 Hours

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Nah, James Franco, had to cut off his own arm to escape a large boulder that had trapped him, but he didn’t eat it. In Snowpiercer, lots of people eat their own arms. It’s kind of a badge of honour to be lop-sided.

In Alive! Ethan Hawke wanted to eat the pilot, remember, for crashing the plane. Jess points out that in Alive! the bodies were conveniently frozen until required by the high altitude snow, but in the cave

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Now we get to the key question of cannibalism. Who gets et? Ethan Hawke was the one to suggest cannibalism in Alive!, but only agreed to join in if the others could assure him that he wasn’t actually eating his sister. In the cave, they are consoled by the thought that at least Brandon wasn’t part of their company.

It wouldn’t be like we’re eating a colleague.

So it’s OK to eat a stranger, just not your mom?

I’m not saying it’s OK to eat anyone. But yes, I’d rather eat a guy I just met who I thought was an asshole, than my mom.

Lucy objects to cannibalism, first on the basis that they are making individual decisions during a team building exercise, using her usual inspirational jargon, but Derek (Isiah Whitlock Jr) has the line of the movie.

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But then Lucy moves to the ontological question, the key question of cannibal studies – does cannibalism define or exclude humanity?

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They take a vote, and decide to eat him, but find he is already missing one arm. Who took Brandon’s arm? Yep, it’s Lucy, objecting to cannibalism per se, but not to assuage her own hunger.

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They decide to eat the rest of Brandon, and Jess volunteers to start.

 

Does it taste like chicken?

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Before long, Brandon is all gone.

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Jess asks Freddie (Karan Soni from Deadpool) how he feels after eating a fellow human?

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Brandon comes back to Freddie in a hallucination, and now we are referencing the Eucharist

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So then, having reduced Brandon to a memory (and a meat god), the question becomes: who is next? Each person’s ailments, and the likelihood of mortality from them, become of huge interest to the rest of the group. Aidan (Calum Worthy) has a weeping wound which could turn gangrenous and require amputation.

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Gloria (Martha Kelly) has Lupus, and could have a seizure (they kind of hope).

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So this is the debate over what William Irvine calls active vs passive cannibalism. Even though both are usually considered repugnant, eating someone who has died is passive, but killing them to do so, active cannibalism, is considered far worse. In this case, they are willing to eat a corpse with no hesitation, but killing someone to harvest that corpse? As Lucy says

“Not everyone has balls big enough to make the hard decisions.”

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So cannibalism, traditionally ascribed to the non-white, non-European, the “savage”, is now the white man’s burden in this looking-glass world (which, to keep the Alice reference going, is down a rabbit-hole).

The active/passive debate goes on after rescue. At first, they claimed they survived by eating the edible cutlery, then Jess admits

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The apologia of he carnivore: I don’t eat much meat; I only eat humanely killed meat. But when there’s nothing else to eat, no other species available, murder is still murder, but cannibalism is just a handy meal.

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Next week: Episode 1 of SEASON 3 of HANNIBAL

The vampire of Sacramento: “RAMPAGE” (Friedkin, 1987)

Rampage is a 1987 film from William Friedkin, the director of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973). It is based on the case of RICHARD CHASE, an American serial killer who murdered six people in the span of a month in December/January 1977-78. He was nicknamed “The Vampire of Sacramento” because he drank his victims’ blood and cannibalized their remains. In this version, the victims have been altered, as has the killer, who is now named Charlie Reece (Alex McArthur). Charlie is presented as the nice, helpful boy-next door. He’d mow your lawn, or bring in your shopping.

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Then maybe kill you and drink your blood.

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The film wastes no time on showing Charlie getting hungry, killing three people who appear to be chosen at random, and then revealing his self-perception, as a caged tiger.

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The film is mostly about the keen young prosecutor, Anthony Fraser (Michael Biehn). Fraser is caring, empathetic, liberal, an opponent of capital punishment, until he comes across this case.

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“The women’s bodies were cut open to get at the organs… Some of the organs were removed.”

There’s also a glass that has been filled with blood, and drained.

Another family are burying their dog. They know Charlie poisoned the dog, and report him to the police. Then Charlie comes visiting. The mother is cut up like the others and sexually assaulted, the child has vanished.

Charlie is quickly arrested, and we see his cellar, full of body parts, weapons and Nazi regalia. His mother tells his lawyer about how Charlie had to witness domestic violence at a very young age. Charlie tells his psychiatrist about hearing Satan on the radio, telling him to kill people, and taking his blood from him when he disobeys. He describes shooting the little boy so he could suck his blood, then putting him in a trash can.

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All the pieces are there for an insanity plea. The psychiatrists agree to say he was a paranoid schizophrenic who believed his blood was poisoned and his heart failing.

At the trial, we hear how normal Charlie was – his friends talk of his reasoned non-violence, his scout master says he was a good boy, his steady girl tells how thoughtful he was. Then a nurse tells of finding his diary, listing all the dogs, cats and rabbits he had killed. The prosecution’s psychiatrist is asked “did he know he was killing living human beings?”

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That was the point. That was why he did it. He claims he has a belief that his body is failing and infected and he’s convinced himself that someone else’s blood will repair him. He had to kill them to get the blood.

In other words, he was psychotic, but he knew what he was doing at all times, and is therefore legally sane.

As the movie bogs irretrievably down in legal and psychiatric argument, Charlie livens it up as he escapes (something Chase did not do), kills the guards and then invades a church, killing the priest and drinking his blood.

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Back in court, the defence’s psychiatrist says Charlie was driven by his sickness and had no free will. He asks

What makes a respectable young man turn into a killer?

After he is found guilty, the judge orders a PET scan, a new technology that scans the brain.

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“We’re looking at a computer enhanced image of the chemistry of the brain. And what we’re seeing is a picture of madness.”

But it’s too late; in the original version of the film at least, Charlie’s mom has smuggled him pills, and he kills himself.

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Rampage was completed in 1987, just in time for DEG, the production company, to go bankrupt. It was not released in the US for the next five years, and was finally released, with a different ending, in 1992 by the Weinstein company. In that version, he is sent to a state mental hospital, and writes to a man whose wife and child he has killed, asking him to visit. A final title card reveals that Reece is scheduled for a parole hearing in six months. He will probably kill again. While the original version quibbled with the idea of capital punishment, the revised version reinforced the necessity of putting him down. European versions usually show the original ending, in which Charlie commits suicide, and the DA regrets fighting for the death penalty.

Basically, this movie is like a long episode of CSI or SVU, and in fact there is an episode of CSI called “Justice Is Served” which is also based on Chase’s murders. The director, Friedkin, called it “among the lowest points in my career.” The film scored what could charitably be called a modest 44% on Rotten Tomatoes. With only nine reviews, you might call it ignored rather than despised. The script is clunky and some of the acting is wooden, although Alex McArthur as the killer is great, looking a bit like a (more) demented John Travolta. The soundtrack is by the wonderful Sergio Leone, who wrote over 400 movie scores, including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Roger Ebert, the doyen of movie critics, wrote, “This is not a movie about murder so much as a movie about insanity”.

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The real Richard Chase

Well, yes – Chase was, by the age of ten, exhibiting evidence of all three parts of the Macdonald triad: bed-wetting, arson, and cruelty to animals, considered as indicators of future violent tendencies.

Rampage is a classic psychogenic cannibalism story. Like Jeffrey Dahmer or Albert Fish, we can hate what Charlie did and yet not quite blame him for it – he is driven by what we consider wrong beliefs, which cause him to ignore the sanctity of human life. Yet how sacred is human life, in a world in which thousands of children die of malnutrition every day while their government exports grain to the West to feed pigs and chickens? Charlie believes he needs blood due to an imaginary illness, just as so many people are convinced they need to eat animal flesh. He starts on dogs, cats and rabbits and graduates to humans. To the cannibal, we are just one more species on the shopping list: if it’s OK to eat Fido, it must be OK to eat the neighbours. There is a logic there, which the meat industry would much rather you ignore.

 

Next week = some light cannibal relief with the new comedy CORPORATE ANIMALS

The First and Last Hannibal movie: HANNIBAL RISING (Webber, 2007)

Well, it’s the first Hannibal movie, because it starts with him as a child, and it’s chronologically the last one released. Unless #BryanFuller makes a movie, instead of Season 4 of the TV show. Or Sir Anthony Hopkins comes back as an octogenarian Hannibal, with his wife (Clarice – Jodie Foster or Julianne Moore would both be fine) running the meat business. Martha De Laurentiis @neoprod – I have a script treatment ready!

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This is the Hannibal film everyone loves to hate. We are treated to a sweet young Hannibal (Aaran Thomas) having to watch his beloved little sister Mischa being eaten by Nazi collaborators and deserters, and then discovering that he himself unwittingly joined the feast.

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From this, we deduce, came his hunger for human flesh. Like the desperate young crash survivors carving meat from the corpses of their dead teammates in Alive, his subsequent actions may not be acceptable, but become at least partially understandable. Psychopathy founded in trauma.

Hannibal of course would have hated this – remember that he told Clarice in Silence of the Lambs

“You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism… Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Or as the 21st century Hannibal said:

when it comes to nature versus nurture I choose neither. We are built from a DNA blueprint and born into a world of scenario and circumstance we don’t control.

There are two streams of thought on the subject of evil: one, from Rousseau to Arendt, is adamant that morality requires an explanation for evil, while an alternative stream from Voltaire to Jean Améry, insists that it be left unaccountable. Clarice Starling and Dino De Laurentiis would seem to favour the side of Rousseau, while Harris and Hannibal, and many critics of the film, seem more aligned with Voltaire. Harris apparently faced the awful choice of accepting large sums of money to divulge the origin story, or else see it betrayed by another writer.

The opening image of a film, they tell you in film studies, sets the mood and the theme. This one opens with a spider-web.

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People are afraid of spiders, for reasons that I have never quite understood. Beware, this one seems to be saying, and we hear childish Hannibal in the background, telling Mischa to run and hide! But it’s just a game. Until the Nazis appear, with their Hiwis, or Lithuanian collaborators, led by the irredeemably despicable Grutas (Rhys Ifans), bandits who are all too willing to assist the SS, for their own profit.

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Hannibal’s parents are killed, and the Hiwis take over the lodge, desperate for food, and finding none.

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Except for the children.

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We do not witness the cannibal acts then, but in nightmare flashbacks eight years later. Hannibal (Gaspard Ulliel) is now a teenager, still mute from PTSD, in an orphanage which uses the former Lecter Castle. He is accused of not honouring “the human pecking order”

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Yes, he hates discourtesy. He won’t swallow bullying. Yet.

He escapes the orphanage, crosses Lithuania, Poland, East Germany (hops over the Wall, easy as anything) and arrives in his uncle’s home in Paris. Uncle is dead, and he moves in with his beautiful young Japanese aunt, Lady Murasaki (Gong Li, who is Chinese, but, ah well). Will there be romance as she helps him recover his voice?

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She teaches him about the Samurai code, in front of the armour of her ancestors, strangely evocative of a later Hannibal.

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She teaches him the art of fighting. And the treatment of enemies.

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A butcher in the marketplace insults Murasaki, and Hannibal is enraged. The butcher (a Nazi collaborator) becomes Hannibal’s first kill, and then his first human meat, after the chef explains the delights of eating cheeks.

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Hannibal presents Murasaki with the butcher’s head. When she objects that he did not need to do that for her, he replies

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Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to Hannibal. Ah, so young, and already eating the rude. And already seeing cannibalism everywhere – looking at a fresco of Abraham on the mount, about to sacrifice his son, he asks

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So much about older Hannibal is revealed – the police inspector (Dominic West from The Wire) gives him a lie detector test – but he responds to nothing.

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Hannibal is also brilliant – the youngest student ever admitted into medical school. But he is still obsessed with Mischa and the men who took her from him. He can draw their faces from memory, but cannot remember their names. A dose of sodium thiopental, truth serum, with the Goldberg Variations (another Silence of the Lambs reference) playing in the background, gives him his mental break. Or maybe breaks something in him, depending on your propensity for behaviourism. He remembers that there was a bag of dog-tags left in the lodge, returns to the Soviet Union (no problem crossing the Iron Curtain for Hannibal apparently) and finds all the names. And Mischa’s teddy bear, and her bones. And one of the Hiwis, whom he dispatches, much as Will later dreams of dispatching Hannibal.

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He licks the blood off his glove, with some gusto, and prepares the cheeks for a fresh-air feast.

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Hannibal spends the rest of the movie tracking down the rest of the gang, who are now into respectable industries like human trafficking and drowning ortolans for lunch.

Along the way, there are interesting discussions of our topic – cannibalism. One of the gang tell Hannibal, as he is about to be killed:

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Survival cannibalism. Common in the days of sail, and in various famines. But the Inspector knows what happened, back in the USSR.

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Cannibalism happened on the Eastern Front, says the Inspector. This is not news to Hannibal. He is determined to find the gang leader, Grutas. The Inspector tells him (us) what a lovely guy Grutas is. He sawed off the head of the Rabbi at Kaunas.

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He walked away from his war crime trial because a witness got acid poured down her throat. So really, whatever Hannibal does, well, it’s OK with us. But the Inspector has decided Hannibal is insane.

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Murasaki tries to persuade him to give the gang up to the police. She can be quite persuasive.

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But Hannibal cannot make that promise. He has already promised Mischa – revenge.

At his first encounter with the villain, Grutas, he has an interesting outlook on cannibalism too.

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There you have it. Cannibalism is about love.

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Then the big reveal. Lady Murasaki is a captured by Grutas, Hannibal comes to the rescue and has Grutas at his mercy. Mercy is not a word Hannibal uses much, and when Murasaki asks him to stop, he says

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Grutas replies:

So did you. You ate her too. So why don’t you kill yourself? Pot Watcher fed her to you in a broth. You have to kill everyone who knows it, don’t you? You ate her, half conscious…

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Hannibal snaps, and carves M for Mischa on Grutas’ chest.

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Murasaki gives up, despite Hannibal’s protestations of love.

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Instead of following her, Hannibal stops for a quick snack on Grutas’ cheeks.

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Trivia time: Hannibal is not only a brilliant doctor, musician and cook, but he is also apparently ambidextrous. Check him out writing left-handed in this movie, whereas he is right-handed in all the others, and in the TV series.

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The film got a measly 16% on Rotten Tomatoes. Most criticism centres on the fact that it is not particularly scary, but that rather misses the point, IMHO. The question the film asks is: how do people overcome the social conditioning of their childhoods to become what they are – killers, cannibals, rapists, politicians? It may be genetic, as Hannibal tells Clarice: “nothing happened. I happened”. Or maybe the childhood itself offers a clue to how, as Clarice asked “you got that way”. The film offers a view of the latter – a gentle, loving little boy with, clearly, a brilliant mind, but so traumatised that he can think of nothing but revenge. His target – rude people and bullies. No one minds seeing them get their comeuppance. But you take a bite out of their cheeks, and suddenly everyone is convinced you’re a monster.

But here’s why I like this film:

  • The book and the screenplay are both written by the brilliant Thomas Harris, who of course created Hannibal. This is the only film in the series for which Harris wrote the screenplay
  • The Director is Peter Webber (Girl with a Pearl Earring)
  • There are two Hannibals in this movie (a 100% increase on all the other movies)! One at age eight, and the other a young man
  • It only takes Hannibal’s story up to his arrival in North America, leaving a nice narrative gap between that and his eventual capture and captivity by Will Graham in Red Dragon, which was perfectly filled by Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal (even if time shifted by a few decades)
  • It shows the humanity of Hannibal, his devotion to his sister, and his determination to hunt down her killers. If you don’t want your Hannibal to show humanity, then this can be a problem
  • It was a prequel. Every great character gets a prequel – Darth Vader, Indiana Jones, Vito Corleone, Mr Spock, Zorro, Batman – even Jesus has scored a few. Why not Hannibal?

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“There must be a bit of your husband, too” – WEEKEND (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

Godard’s Weekend came out in 1967, and has maintained its rage against bourgeois society for over fifty years. From the perspective of Cannibal Studies, it has everything. Cannibal movies are about appetite and power and what, if anything, can counter those fundamental forces of nature. Weekend is about appetite (rampant consumerism), class struggle, and of course the revolution. All are treated as deadly serious and hilariously funny.

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Godard’s previous movie in 1967, La Chinoise, was explicitly Marxist, but Weekend is more anarchist in tone; no one escapes unskewered from Godard’s piercing insight into the absurdity of social interactions. There are no heroes or even sympathetic characters – humanity is depicted as greedy, corrupt and narcissistic.

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Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne) are in the car, heading to Corinne’s mother’s home, where they intend to either cheat her or kill her. The road is lined with gridlocked traffic and horrendous car accidents filled with corpses, all of which they ignore.

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Both are also planning to cheat on each other, once they get the money. Greed, corruption, influence are their only motivations, and the other motorists are beneath their notice, except when they need clothes, which they shamelessly loot from the wrecks. Anyone who stops them is liable to feel their teeth.

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Only when their own car crashes does Corinne express any emotion.

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They spend days on the road with only the clothes they wear and an apparently bottomless packet of cigarettes, and come across a range of characters, including the Jacobin leader Louis Antoine de Saint-Just and Emily Bronte, whom they set alight, enraged that she is just an imaginary character.

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After killing the mother and getting the fortune, they are kidnapped by group of revolutionaries called the Seine-et-Oise Liberation Front, who enthusiastically rape and eat their captives.

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Godard’s vision of the modern guerilla army skirmishing in the outskirts of the cities was a perceptive prophesy of what would a few years later appear as the Red Brigade and the Weathermen. But this group are also cannibals, which allowed me the pleasure of re-watching, for this blog, a movie that still perturbs me some fifty years after I first saw it. The cannibalism of course points backwards to the history of revolutionary betrayal – the Terror of the French Revolution that gobbled up everyone from Danton to Robespierre, the swallowing up of the Bolsheviks by Stalin, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, in which cannibalism was used as a political weapon. Capitalism is about consumption, but so, too often, are the alternatives.

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In Godard’s absurdist world, we’re either being eaten by the cannibals, or joining them.

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Next week: Hannibal Lecter putting aside childish things, in Hannibal Rising.

“Every family has a secret recipe” – WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Somos lo que hay), Grau, 2010.

This Mexican film (in Spanish) has it all when it comes to Cannibal Studies. When we discuss cannibalism, we think of sacrificial rituals, or people starving, or maybe just psychogenic appetites – some inner appetite that can only be satiated with human flesh. In most cannibal films, the cannibals are minor personalities, indistinct threats to the protagonist, not the main characters.

Welcome to We Are What We Are. A family of cannibals survive on human flesh, which is harvested by the father in bloody ritual ceremonies. When Dad dies, how are they to carry on? This is a family much like the one in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: poor, disenfranchised, living on the edge of a consumer society from which they seem excluded.

Shot in Mexico city, the film reflects the struggle for survival in what some call a dog-eat-dog world, which of course is far more accurately a human-eat-human world, since we are often far nicer to dogs than to each other.

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Yep, and the boys, Alfredo and his younger, vicious brother Julián, have been evicted from their market stall because Dad didn’t pay the rent. He was a watchmaker by trade, and also a procurer of human flesh. Kept the family fed. No more though. The boys have to take over.

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Meanwhile, the coroner calls in the police. He has found something interesting in Dad’s stomach.

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The police are not interested though. They don’t bother with cold cases. Or hot ones either, apparently. The coroner tells them

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“In the reports, they blame the rats, but what about the two-legged kind?”

The boys head to the bridge, where the homeless children live. Self-service and easy to carry. This is not too far-fetched – there are many reports of death squads picking up kids and turning them over to drug cartels. But these boys have a different purpose, and they are not very good at it – the kids fight them off.

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A cannibal fail. Their mother is furious because they put the family at risk. “Next we start trembling, because we’re going to die.”

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Luckily, Sabina, the sister, has an idea.

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Mexico City is presented as corrupt, steamy and full of predators. No cannibal need go hungry, with the streets full of homeless children and prostitutes. But these aren’t any old hungry or depraved cannibals (although they’re getting there fast) – they have a ritual, and prostitutes apparently just won’t do, so Mum beats her to death with a shovel.

The poor and desperate usually stalk their own. The family has tried the outcast children under the bridge, then the vulnerable prostitutes; now Alfredo follows a group of young gays to an underground club and picks up a young man, who tells him, without irony,

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Alfredo is devastated by his first gay kiss. Well, we knew, he is so sensitive, while Julián is the one filled with carnivorous virility, and is quite straight, although incestuously drawn to his sister.

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All taboos are out on the table here, just like the prostitute’s corpse.

Mother and Julián take the prostitute’s body back to the street where they found her, and Mum abuses the girls for wanting to fuck her sons.

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On the hierarchy of monsters, she seems to consider cannibals rather higher than whores.

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Alfredo brings his new boyfriend home, for dinner, as it were. But Julián is not impressed. Nor is Mum, prompting Alfredo to ask why she hates him,

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Is he talking gay or cannibal? Maybe the status of outcast is enough. You are considered less than human, and so can be hunted, killed, eaten.

Mum has brought another bloke home, and they kill him after a struggle. But Alfredo’s boyfriend, Gustavo has escaped, and found the police:

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Meanwhile, the prostitutes are finding ways to motivate the cops to look into the murder of their colleague.

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Everyone is eating everyone in this world. Mum and sister are starting “the ritual” with the corpse, which involves candles, meat hooks and sharp knives. Juicy crunching sounds, as they pull the carcass apart. Look, if this troubles you, don’t ever go into a butcher shop – the actions and sounds are the same. Except for the munching on raw flesh bit maybe.

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OK, enough spoilers. It is a horror movie, so the rules say the monster must die, with the opportunity for resurrection (in case of a sequel). And in cannibal movies, there is the Wendigo factor: the bite of the cannibal turns the victim into a cannibal, much like the vampire legends.

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Except there really are cannibals in our world, and they are not always eating flesh. There are many ways of eating the outcast.

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The critics gave it 72% on Rotten Tomatoes, although the viewers were less generous.

The Los Angeles Times said it was

An unexpectedly rich exploration of family bonds, blood rituals and the oftentimes zombie-like desire to assume the roles proscribed to each of us.

The New York Post was similarly insightful

Grau’s script is intelligent, and it has something to say about family and social dysfunction. You just might want to skip meat for a few days.

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Next week: the season finale of HANNIBAL SEASON 2. “Everybody’s settling in for dinner”.