Cannibal was the directorial debut of the German director Marian Dora in 2006, and is basically a re-enactment of the famous case of Armin Meiwes (pronounced like the Sinatra song “I did it my way”), the so-called ‘Rotenburg Cannibal’. Meiwes was a German computer technician who was into “vorarephilia” (sexual attraction to eating, or being eaten by, another). He advertised on the Internet for a man who was willing to be killed and eaten, and ended up doing both of those things to an engineer named Bernd Jürgen Brandes whose greatest desire was to be eaten. Unlike most crime re-enactments, this one was easy to research, because Meiwes videotaped most of the killing, butchering and eating of Brandes. We’ve met Meiwes in a couple of earlier blogs: in Grimm Love an American researcher (Keri Russell) searches for the videotape and then freaks out when she gets hold of it. The documentary Copycat Killer covered the famous case with lots of dramatic music and comparisons to Hannibal Lecter, which was absurd. The Australian comedy Rake also did a great simplified version of it with the wonderful Hugo Weaving as both an economics professor and a cannibal (which is more terrifying?).
Marian Dora is a pseudonym used by a film-maker whose real name is shrouded in mystery. Probably for good reason – his first two releases were included in anthologies of short films named Blue Snuff 1 and Blue Snuff 2, the latter of which was withdrawn due to its extremely graphic content. He then went on to work with Ulli Lommel on a number of crime/slasher films.
This film was assigned to Dora by Lommel, but proved too rich for Lommel’s taste, and Dora ended up releasing it himself, direct to video. Really? Too rich for Ulli Lommel, whose grisly bio of Fritz Haarmann we reviewed earlier this year? Well, that’s promising. Lommel went on to make his own version of the Meiwes story, with the protagonist changed to female for some reason. This was also called Cannibal at first, then changed to Diary of a Cannibal, and has graced the “Bottom 100” lists of Yahoo and IMDB ever since. We… might get to it one day. Maybe.
Meiwes and Brandes are not named in this film – the eater is just called “The Man” and the eaten “The Flesh”. There is very little dialogue, except for the Man’s mother reading him Hansel and Gretel at the beginning (when he was presumably called the Boy), presumably turning him into a cannibal (didn’t that happen to everyone who read the Brothers Grimm?)
We then Get To See A Selection Of The Man’s preferred reading matter: cannibal art by Hieronymus Bosch and Hans Staden, books on Jeffrey Dahmer, and some interesting texts on anatomy and butchering, which he will find handy later.
We see the Man having a series of meetings with a bunch of guys (and one woman) he has contacted on internet chats, all of whom turn out to be not that serious about going through with the whole, you know, kill me and eat me thing. The woman might have been ready, but he writes, “Women are too important for the survival of mankind.” Pretty much how the dairy and egg industries operate, when they sex the calves and chicks and immediately kill the males.
He even meets up with a couple of kids, not presumably through the web, but seems to prefer his meat aged and consensual.
The Man finally meets the Flesh, who introduces himself,
“I’m your flesh”
But then adds:
“I don’t want to suffer”
Yeah, no probs, mate; the Man stops on the way home from picking up the Flesh at the railway station to buy some schnapps and some cough medicine.
Then after a game of petanque and some sweaty sex, the Flesh won’t feel a thing. Hmmm.
“You’ll become a part of me”
Seems to me to be a bit of a misunderstanding of how the alimentary system works. However.
Once they enter the house, the movie becomes very dark. Literally – one of those movies where it’s hard to see what the hell is going on. They’re going to have sex, one of them is going to eat the other, but first, a nice cuppa tea.
There’s a lot of plinky-plonky music and sex scenes which drag on interminably, and end with the Flesh anally penetrating the Man. No one was expecting that. Isn’t cannibalism supposed to be about dominance? It’s an interesting conflict. They curl up on the floor together and, when they awake, the Flesh demands the Man bite off his penis. My thoughts immediately went to Monty Python (“ergh! With a gammy leg?”) at the thought of biting his penis after anal sex; but hey, call me old fashioned. Anyway, the Flesh is not called the Teeth or even Jaws, and can’t do more than draw blood, a kind of ineffective circumcision, and the Flesh growls:
“You are too weak!”
Freud would have had an orgasm of his own at this point – we have power, guilt and of course male fears which, he said, were based around the act of castration, usually due to the fear of the father’s anger at the boy’s Oedipal desires. But this man is too weak to eat him! Perhaps because he needs to eat. They need to merge before they can merge. It’s another challenge. But as Freud said, the cannibal “only devours people of whom he is fond”, which is why, according to Brigid Brophy, Christians eat God to affirm the love of the Father. The Man is seeking the transubstantiation of the Flesh.
So anyway, the Man does what any man does when his lover is disappointed – runs for the cough medicine; let’s knock him out! But then they both fall asleep, seeming to decide that this wasn’t such a hot idea. When they wake, it seems like it’s all over, but they are a stubborn pair – a splash of water on his face and the Flesh is ready and raring to get ate. This time they pick up prescription sleeping tablets at the pharmacy – Stilnox, very popular among Australian athletes apparently, and the Flesh washes it down with a bottle of brandy.
“Castrate me, then kill me. Do it now.”
The Man sets up the video (and this is all pretty much as it happened – Meiwes did videotape the whole procedure, which helped the police considerably during the court case). He puts on a record of church music, and fetches a knife. We get to see a lengthy scene of Bobbitting (hint – don’t try amateur anaesthesia at home: the cough medicine and booze don’t work very well).
He fries the severed cock up with some garlic (yep, all true to the actual case) but they find it tough and inedible. They spit it out (in the real case they fed it to Meiwes’ dog, but the sensible dogs of Germany refused to sign up for this movie).
Then the rest of the film is the killing of the Flesh and the preparation of his flesh. The Man puts the Flesh in the bathtub to bleed out, and reads a Jerry Cotton book while he waits. This is an outrageous fictionalisation – Meiwes in fact read a Star Trek novel. Ah well, poetic licence.
When the Flesh refuses to die by the time the Man finishes his book, the Man drags him out of the bath, vomiting, urinating and defecating, and lays him out in the Schlachthof he has set up, arms outstretched like the Broken Christ, then cuts his throat.
The final twenty minutes or so of this film (if anyone is still watching) is clinical – a masterclass in butchery. The Flesh is strung up by his feet and the Man disembowels him in great detail, vomiting as he does so. The Flesh, already dehumanised, is now deanimalised too; he is simply a carcass being prepared for the meat chiller.
I loved this review from Letterboxd which complains that the movie describes:
“how a cannibal prepares his food, everything is in detail and the scene came exactly when I was going to have my breakfast fuck me it’s like the movie knew when I’m going to eat my food, this has happened quite a few times with me now and its getting creepy 😂”
Scott Weinberg of DVD Talk wrote,
“One of the sickest and freakiest movies ever to come from a nation well-known for its freaky and sick movies (Germany)”
To me, the butchery was not the most abject part of the film; it was the sort of thing you might see in an instructional video for abattoir workers, except not with the usual species of victim. The defecation and vomiting were harder to take, but I guess that is subjective. All in all, most people will find something to disgust them in this film, and perhaps that was the point. It’s disgusting, but it’s not that different to what we get minimum-pay workers in slaughterhouses to do eight hours a day to some seventy billion animals every year. Unless the special effects budget was huge (not obvious from the rest of the film), a real animal was gutted and chopped up to make this film, which is actually the sickest part of it.
The butchery is shown in loving detail and for extended time. It lets us experience what it would be like to do that (I’m guessing most of us have not butchered an animal, human or otherwise). Being his first time, the Man keeps stopping to either snack on some flesh or to remorsefully throw up; pretty sure neither would be encouraged in the industrial meat corporation.
For a real slaughterhouse worker, wielding the cleaver would be sickening the first time, then boring for the hours thereafter. We see the Flesh reduced to just meat cuts. As King Lear said, when stripped of civilisation:
“unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, fork’d animal”
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, there is an excellent and hilarious summary by Mike Bracken “The Horror Geek” which had me laughing out loud several times, despite the content.
At the end of the film, the Man has a nice Flesh dinner (the Flesh is present at the table, short of one body), then jerks off to his home movie, and next morning is all scrubbed up, in a nice suit, and trotting off to meet his potential next sacrifice. In fact, Meiwes was eventually caught because he advertised for another victim a few months later, when he started running out of Brandes. Meiwes is still in jail in Germany, and is now apparently a vegetarian.
As I said, we know very little about the director, except that Dora is not his real name, and that he is vegetarian and works as a physician. After watching this movie, you’ll understand why he wants to remain anonymous. Perhaps also why he’s a vegetarian.