“Our women can’t get pregnant” A BOY AND HIS DOG (L.Q. Jones, 1975)

“Dog eat dog” is an odd expression. Dogs generally don’t eat each other. The phrase is really a euphemism for the way humans will exploit and kill (and sometimes eat) each other. Accusing the dogs is more socially acceptable, but the phrase is more about our own predilection for devouring our own kind to satiate our various hungers, particularly in times of societal collapse.

This cannibalism blog has reviewed a number of post-apocalyptic films, the best known being Soylent Green, Delicatessen, The Bad Batch, Snowpiercer, 28 Days Later and The Road. Lesser known films include No Blade of Grass, We Are The Flesh, Cadaver, The Girl With All The Gifts, Tear Me Apart and of course several versions of the H.G. Wells classic, The Time Machine.

Clearly, we love bad things happening, preferably well into the future (800,000 years in The Time Machine), and to other people. It’s Greek tragedy but set in our future, warning us of the inevitable unwinding of society and, as we have found, often the eating of the most vulnerable. In most such movies, food is the obsession of both the protagonist and the various antagonists that must be overcome.

The protagonist of such movies is almost always male, and males, in most cultures, are conditioned to eat meat. If humans are the only meat available, that will often do just fine. Other appetites appear occasionally (there was a controversial rape scene in No Blade of Grass), but Freud’s insistence on the primacy of the sexual urges is put on the backburner (sorry) when it comes to eating.

Not this one though. The film is a post-apocalyptic black comedy (we see mushroom clouds at the start, and are told that World War 4 (in 2007) lasted five days – enough time to empty the missile silos). This film is set in 2024 (well, Soylent Green was set in 2022, so now seems like a good decade for disasters). The humans who survive work together in “rover packs” or else hunt alone as “solos”. There is an implication that the rover packs are happy to engage in a bit of cannibalism, as we see a small child carried, struggling, into a campsite.

The main character is a solo – his name is Vic, and he is played by Don Johnson, who a decade later would become a huge star and win a Golden Globe for his role in Miami Vice.

Did I say main character? Arguably, the star of this film is Blood, a shaggy dog.

Blood is smarter, better informed, has an advanced sense of humour and irony (he calls Vic “Albert”, after the rather more conventional dog stories of Albert Payson Terhune), has a superb sense of smell, and can converse telepathically with Vic. But the genetic modification that allowed this telepathy (designed for war of course) also removed his ability to hunt for food. So, Vic and Blood are symbiotes – Vic hunts for food, while Blood smells out women for the sexually voracious appetite of Vic.

In this ultimate extension of what Barbara Creed calls “aggressive phallicity”, the frontier of the rugged individual, the gun is king and women are purely there as rape targets. In the opening scene, Blood finds a woman, but a rover pack has arrived first, and they have knifed her after they have had their fun. Vic’s anger is purely selfish – that she could have been used a few more times. Blood mocks him “you’re so funny when you’re sexually frustrated.”

Later, Blood discovers a woman, Quilla (Susanne Benton) in disguise at the movies (there is one rover pack that exists as a sort of neutral space, putting on movies, running a brothel and selling popcorn). They put on old movies and cheesecake for lonely solos to beat off to. They watch Fistfull of Rawhide (it’s a real movie, from 1969) as Vic waits for the girl to leave and head someplace isolated where he can accost her.

They follow her to a deserted gymnasium, where she is getting changed from her male disguise, and he is enchanted by her youth, beauty and cleanliness.

Quilla comes from a different world, the “Downunder”, a series of underground cities where traditional American values rule – raised hats, marching bands, picket fences, apple pies, civility). Everyone is made up in white-face – everyone is Middle America is white, and seem to need confirmation. Quilla, it turns out, was “the cheese” – she came to the surface to tempt Vic, like Eve tempted Adam, so he would enter the underground world, and bring his sperm with him.

Yes, the solid citizens of the symbolic order or language and laws have become sterile. But Blood, she says, wouldn’t fit in there. Trouble in paradise. Blood, badly wounded defending Vic, who had refused to leave Quilla to a rover pack, waits at the portal as Vic descends like Orpheus in search of Quilla. They want Vic’s sperm, because being underground has made their men sterile, but it’s not going to be the orgiastic event Vic imagines – they strap him down and connect his member to an electro-ejaculation machine, just as modern agriculture does to prize-winning bulls and rams. Such a device is normally inserted into the rectum and positioned against the prostate, and an electric charge causes involuntary ejaculation. To the townsfolk, Vic is an animal to be milked of sperm and then killed when they are done with him.

The film is available on YouTube (at the time of writing) so I won’t give too many spoilers. It’s well acted, the dog is delightful, the plot is pretty faithful to the novella of the same name, which came from the brilliant mind of Harlan Ellison. Ellison published the story is a collection called The Beast That Shouted Love At The Heart Of The World, in the introduction to which he objected to the term “new wave science fiction”, and cast bitter scorn on the “clots” who called his work “sci-fi”. Ellison was known for his brilliant writing but also his outspoken, combative personality; the Los Angeles Times described him as “the 20th-century Lewis Carroll” while Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, called him “the only living organism I know whose natural habitat is hot water”. The story’s concept remains original and the narrative sparkling, even half a century after the book and film were made.

The genius of this story, captured in the film, is the deconstruction of some of the most basic assumptions of our (pre-world war IV) societies. One, Derrida tells us, is common to all philosophers up to now – that we look at animals, but assume they do not look back. It is the basis of anthropocentrism (human supremacism) to assume that only humans are aware, are subjects who think and observe. But in this film Vic is the dumb animal that only knows how to fight and fornicate, while the “rational animal” who keeps him alive, teaches him and cares for him, is Blood, the dog.

Then there is the myth of the hero, the man of action – men like Vic seem to be a dying breed. Vic is only interested in “getting laid” – and believes that is only possible through violent rape. But Quilla is smarter than Vic, manipulative and calculating, as well as having a stronger libido – “I’m the one who’s supposed to want it” he complains. Socially too the dominant male is an anachronism. Above ground, the solos are being recruited into rover packs or killed, while below ground, the patriarchal symbolic order that is trying to recreate America of the 1950s is dying out – the males infertile.

Finally, I need to address the question of cannibalism, because, hey, this is a cannibalism blog. There is an implication in the film that the rover packs are kidnapping children from other packs for dinner (we all know that babies taste best). That’s what happens after an apocalypse – check out the gangs in The Road. But there is an implication that the society below ground also eats meat, and the only animals we see are humans, plus one small white dog. Those who disobey “The Committee”, a triumvirate who rule the place, are sent to “the farm”, to be killed and perhaps eaten. That’s what farms do – provide food.

And what about Blood and the other dogs – dogs are scavengers, but they usually prefer meat. While Vic collects pre-war cans of food, and Blood is very pleased to eat popcorn at the movies, there are certainly a lot of bodies lying around. But we see no evidence of anyone, human or canine, eating (adult) humans, until, like most apocalypse movies, there is no choice.

Or rather there is a choice – sex or love.

There is a popular ethical question about whom you would save from a burning building – a human stranger, or your dog? I suspect most people who have dogs would feel required to answer “the human”, but sotto voce would answer “my dog of course”. When Vic emerges from the Downunder with Quilla, he finds Blood badly injured and starving. Quilla tells Vic she loves him, tells him to leave the dog and go live with her. There’s lust, and there’s love. What will a boy do for his dog?

“Embracing cannibalism”? THE NEW YORK TIMES July 2022 (and the backlash)

I guess it was only a matter of time before cannibalism became part of the culture wars. A light-hearted article in the New York Times July 23 by freelance writer Alex Beggs looked at the undeniable plethora of cannibalism narratives in contemporary movies, TV series, books and news reports, including the TV series Yellowjackets and the recent novel A Certain Hunger by Chelsea Summers, in which a (female) restaurant critic develops a taste for (male) human flesh. The article asserted:

“Turns out, cannibalism has a time and a place. In the pages of some recent stomach-churning books, and on television and film screens, Ms. Summers and others suggest that that time is now.”

Alex Begg has also written for Bon Appétit magazine, making her well qualified to write about food, of whatever provenance. Cooking shows are full of lumps of meat being baked and braised and broiled and smothered in sauces; why not add humans to the livestock list? There certainly are billions of us.

The appearance of cannibalism in secular culture reflects the fading of traditional morality. As Dostoevsky warned in The Brothers Karamazov, without a belief in “immortality” (implying divine judgement), “everything would be lawful, even cannibalism”. Our reflexive distaste for cannibalism (and our fascination with it) comes from the belief that humans are somehow not animals, or animals that have transcended animality – it all comes back to the Biblical statement that we are made in “the image of God”, whatever that means.

Such a belief, with or without support from on high, is called anthropocentrism, or sometimes speciesism, and is maintained by the practice of killing other animals in ever increasing numbers, to prove our superiority. Jacques Derrida called that “carnivorous virility”, but what happens when the lust to kill outruns the limits of anthropocentrism and is instead turned back on fellow humans? We have people who see humans as just another edible species, like Sawney Bean, Sweeney Todd, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer and of course Hannibal Lecter. Not all of those were real people, and not all the facts about the real ones are real facts, but one fact remains: humans are animals, and animals are made of meat. When a society reaches a point where the old ethical agreements are disintegrating, it can either forge new ones or dissolve into chaos, war and, yes, cannibalism. At a time when the news is full of pandemics, climate change, famine, school shootings and political turmoil, is it so surprising that cultural representations show us eating each other?

Did I mention culture wars? Those who despise the New York Times (a certain and fairly large section of America apparently) came out with their anti-cannibalism guns blazing (they like guns, love meat, don’t like cannibals – it does seem a little inconsistent.)

Rod Dreher, a senior editor of The American Conservative opined:

“It’s a sign that our culture and civilization has become so decadent, so enamored by sensation, that we actually fetishize eating death…. We now live in a Culture of Death, in which we regard books, television, and film drama about the eating of human beings as pleasurable, as exciting.”

On Twitter, reactions poured in such as that of writer Emmanuel Rincón:

Zack Kanter tweeted 

“A zero sum worldview, irrational fear of overpopulation, and hatred of success will inevitably lead NYT journos to the literal conclusion of ‘eat the rich.’”

Journalist Tom Fitton tweeted

“NY Times, taking a break from promoting the mass killing of the unborn through abortion, promotes cannibalism.”

Others linked the article back to the QAnon mythology of Democrats torturing and eating children (particularly Hillary).

American Thinker said (under the headline “Cannibal Communists Crave Kids”):

“maybe there was more to that Pizzagate conspiracy than I realized!”

Many had clearly not even bothered to read the article:

And a blessedly brief journalist, Sameera Khan, tweeted

“THIS IS SATANISM”

Greg Gutfeld on his high rating Fox talk show (if you haven’t seen him, imagine a fairy waved a wand and turned The Colbert Report into a real boy) took the opportunity to pack every cannibal pun imaginable (“it’s an ATE part series”) into a short segment, as well as several digs at other shows run by Liberals such as Samantha Bee, and their regular target, CNN. Gutfeld accuses comedian Tom Shillue (formerly of The Daily Show!) of thinking he would be delicious, because he is all white meat.

The gist of much of the criticism was that the Liberal elite are trying to normalise cannibalism, as a way to – what? Reduce overpopulation? Feed the hungry? The website Editorials 360 accuses a “globalist cabal” of planning to make us all eat insects and humans, and drink recycled sewage, a fiendish plot “to enslave, denigrate and dehumanize humanity.”

The website TMZ recalled that the movie Soylent Green was set in 2022, which was then fifty years in the future, but is now, well, now. Are we in fact normalising cannibalism, because it is the logical end-point of voracious consumerism?

Soylent Green is a good place to start the analysis of this “normalizing” phenomenon. Even after fifty years, it is still the movie many people name when cannibalism comes up in discussion (as it seems to do quite a lot whenever thecannibalguy is around). The movie [spoiler alert] was set in 2022 New York, which is portrayed as part of a failed state, in which overpopulation and global warming has led to a chronic shortage of food, leading the authorities (secretly) to grind up humans who have died (or agreed to be euthanised) and convert them into nutritious protein crackers called Soylent Green. Setting it in 2022 was a bit pessimistic, but let us remember that the world’s human population has almost doubled since the movie was made fifty years ago, and that CO2 concentration was 330 parts per million in 1973, compared to around 420 now. Are we entering a time when our voracious consumerism will so deplete the planet that, as Cormac McCarthy suggested, the only thing left to eat will be each other?

Chelsea Summers put it in a political context, relating cannibalism to capitalism:

“Cannibalism is about consumption and it’s about burning up from the inside in order to exist.”

The magazine Evie, which describes itself as “the sister you never had” explains the extraordinary growth of interest in cannibalism stories by referring to the quasi-religious conceits of anthropocentrism:

“Cannibalism is the extreme conclusion of the idea that humans – and their bodies – do not have inherent value that demands respect. American society has been traveling down this philosophical road for a while. It started with legalizing abortion: After Roe v. Wade in 1973, any baby born or killed was just a “choice” at the mercy of their parents. They were not recognized as having inherent value with rights to their body or their life. More recently were the mandatory lockdowns, mask wearing, and vaccinations for Covid-19. Again, a lack of respect for human bodies and for our ability to make decisions for ourselves occurred. The encroachment on human dignity could potentially continue to progress into cannibalism – where the bodies of others have no inherent meaning, value, or sacredness that separates them from the animals we do rightfully and naturally eat.”

Lots of problems with that explanation, not least no attempt to explain the “inherent value” of humans or the assumption that we can eat other animals “rightfully and naturally.” But it is a pretty good summation of the unexamined assumptions at the heart of most writings on cannibalism, or carnivorism, or vivisection, or hunting – the idea that humans are somehow more than animals, and less than edible, while every other species on the planet is stripped of all moral value.

However, talking about cannibalism can put people off the slaughter treadmill altogether. When fact checkers came to ask Chelsea Summers about the way the book’s anti-heroine gastronomically prepares her murdered lovers, their questions about the intricacies of human butchery so disturbed her that she went “full raw vegan for two weeks.” Tobe Hooper gave up meat while making The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, saying “the heart of the film was about meat; it’s about the chain of life and killing sentient beings”. He also claimed that Guillermo Del Toro, no shrinking violet himself in abject filmmaking, gave up meat after seeing it. Bryan Fuller, creator of Hannibal, gave up eating meat during filming of the first season, telling Entertainment Weekly he had been:

“writing about cannibalism for the last three years but also doing considerable research on the psychology of animals, and how sophisticated cows and pigs and the animals that we eat actually are.”

Shows like Hannibal and The Santa Clarita Diet show human flesh as “just meat.” But to do that, they have to (their legal departments insist) come up with ways of simulating the human flesh without actually killing people (or digging them up like Ed Gein). The Yellowjackets prop team chose to use venison (think Bambi). But, the showrunners warned,

“they’ll have to find an alternative for future episodes, because many in its cast are vegan.”

Portrayals of cannibalism, whether actual or fictional, can make some people hungry, and turn others against eating flesh.

Gutfeld points out that:

“In the mind of the NY Times, it’s probably more humane to eat a human being than an animal.”

By “animal”, Gutfeld presumably means every multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia except one – Homo sapiens. We know we are a species of great ape, but spend much of our time pretending we don’t know that.

Being humane, being ethical, is largely about respect and consent. Which was precisely the defence offered by Armin Meiwes when arrested for eating a man who had made it very clear he wanted to be eaten. Cannibalism texts, in ever-increasing numbers, joyfully confound the human/animal divide, and show the human body as edible flesh. So it is not surprising that such questions will be raised, and that, as the NYT said, “that time is now.”

However, Ted Cruz, who likes cannibalism jokes as much as the next meal, came up with a brilliant two-word solution that will put people off human flesh for a considerable time:

Human pastries: Os Canibais de Garanhuns (The Cannibals of Garanhuns, Brazil)

In 2012, police in Garanhuns, Brazil, arrested for murder Jorge Beltrao Negromonte da Silveira, his wife, Isabel Pires, and his mistress, Bruna Cristina Oliveira, who all lived together in a group they called “The Cartel”. Residing with the Cartel was a small child named Vitória, who had been the daughter of their first victim. In 2018, all three adults were found guilty and sentenced to decades in prison.

However, the worldwide public interest in the crimes did not stem from their murder of three young mothers, but from the fact that the Cartel stripped the flesh from the victims and baked them into salgados, salty, deep-fried pastries, which were then sold to the unsuspecting public. To the disappointment of the media, the pictures of the perpetrators showed them as three ordinary Brazilian people, not the monsters the public had expected.

Isabel Pires, left, Jorge Beltrao Negromonte da Silveira, and Bruna Cristina Oliveira

This case, one of about one hundred reported incidents involving cannibalism since the year 2000, is of particular interest because it incorporates many of the issues considered in this blog.

  1. Reports of cannibals from earliest times almost invariably labelled them ‘monsters’, the same term the media used in this case to describe the members of the Cartel. Silveira muddied this even further by accusing his mistress Oliveira of being a witch, who had tortured him and Pires into taking parts in “purification” rituals.
  2. Cannibalism has been a useful accusation against colonised peoples since the time of Columbus, and Brazil has been particularly singled out in the literature as offering indisputable examples of “savage” cannibalism. Gananath Obeyesekere, one of the foremost scholars of cannibalism, writes that he omitted a chapter on the Tupinamba of Brazil from his book Cannibal Talk, which casts significant doubt on the existence of systemic savage cannibalism, partly because of the passionate commitment of Brazilian scholars to the “empirical reality of conspicuous anthropophagy”.
  3. Contemporary narratives of cannibalism, particularly since Jack the Ripper, assume that there are psychogenic bases for the act; de Silveira was found to have written a book called Revelações de um Esquizofrênico (Revelations of a Schizophrenic).
  4. Unknowing cannibals are often described as “innocent” in that they are offered meat without recognising its provenance. The enduringly popular Sweeney Todd, the ‘demon barber of Fleet Street’, is supposed to have, in the late eighteenth century, murdered his customers and furnished their flesh to his accomplice, Margery Lovett, who turned them into meat pies for her unknowing but enthusiastic customers, just as the Cartel did with their salgados. In neither case were there any misgivings because, according to da Silveira, human meat tastes almost the same as beef.
  5. Reports of cannibalism usually leave readers hungry for explanations – the motivation of the act. The Cartel chose its victims partly on the basis that they were tackling overpopulation by killing off single mothers who were unable to care for their children. The Cartel had its own methods of selecting victims, involving not just their unmarried maternity but a set of rules provided by “spiritual entities” which determined which women were evil and should be killed, based on the numbers on their identity cards adding up to 666.
  6. At the heart of this case lies an ethical question: is there a fundamental difference between a salgado (salty) snack full of beef and one filled with human meat? The premise of arguments for such a difference is the concept of anthropocentrism, the belief that (some) humans can transcend their disowned yet undeniable animality, and attain a higher moral status than other animals, such that intentionally killing a human is ‘murder’ while killing other animals is considered commercial harvesting. This sometimes called “speciesism”, except that there has never existed a culture where humans honestly considered all other humans their equals, or sometimes just human narcissism.

Silveira was sentenced to 71 years in prison, while his wife received 68 years and his mistress 71 years and 10 months. This is on top of another conviction in 2014, where the trio were found guilty of killing Jéssica Camila da Silva Pereira. Silveira was sentenced to 23 years in prison for that murder, while his wife and mistress were each sentenced to 20 years.


References

Araújo, E. L. V. M. d. (2018). Estudo do Caso dos Canibais de Garanhuns. (Law thesis), Centro Universitário Tabosa De Almeida, Caruaru, Brazil. Retrieved from http://repositorio.asces.edu.br/handle/123456789/1548 

Haining, P. (2007). Sweeney Todd: The True Story of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. London, Robson Books.

Hunter, B. (2018). “Cannibal killers served flesh-filled pastries to neighbours” Toronto Sun, (December 18). Retrieved from https://torontosun.com/news/world/cannibal-killers-served-flesh-filled-pastries-to-neighbours

Lam, K. (2018) “Cannibal trio sentenced for killing women, stuffing flesh into pastries”, New York Post, (December 17). Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2018/12/17/cannibal-trio-sentenced-for-killing-women-stuffing-flesh-into-pastries/

Obeyesekere, G. (2005). Cannibal talk : The Man-eating Myth and Human Sacrifice in The South Seas. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Other fun cannibalism facts can be found at: thecannibalguy.com/category/cannibal-news/ and thecannibalguy.com/category/on-cannibals/

Commodity cannibalism: NEVER LET ME GO (Mark Romanek, 2010)

NEVER LET ME GO is based quite faithfully on the beautifully written and quite disturbing 2005 novel of the same name by British author Kazuo Ishiguro, which was shortlisted for the Booker prize (which he had previously won with Remains of the Day) and was named by Time Magazine as the best novel of 2005, as well as being listed as fourth on their list of the 100 Best English-language novels published since 1923 (when they started publishing).

This gave the film a high bar, but it does not disappoint, due to the superb cast, the direction of Mark Romanek (One Hour Photo), and the script by Alex Garland (28 Days Later), a friend of Ishiguro, who asked the author for film rights before he even finishing reading the manuscript. Yep, it’s that good.

OK. This is a spoiler alert, particularly if you are going to read the book, although any review will soon tell you what it’s about, and the “secret” is revealed quite early in the film. Here goes. The film is set in an alternative present, where incurable diseases have been conquered.

The protagonists are clones, bred to supply their organs to “real” humans, who can now live well into their hundreds, thanks in part to these donations, and the new medical technologies. The kids are brought up to live healthy lives. Smoking? Right out. A healthy replacement part in a healthy body. The stern principal, Miss Emily (the wonderful Charlotte Rampling) tells them not to spoil the merchandise:

“Students of Hailsham are special. Keeping yourselves well, keeping yourselves healthy inside, is of paramount importance.”

We see the childhood of the protagonists mainly through the eyes of 11-year-old Kathy (Isobel Meikle-Small) who has a preteen crush on Tommy (Charlie Rowe).

Her best friend is Ruth (Ella Purnell). Ruth’s confidence and precocity wins over the shy and vulnerable Tommy, who is barely able to cope with the inevitable challenges and failures of growing up. Tommy represents so many of us – filled with rage at the injustices and humiliations of the world, but unwilling to stand up and take what he wants. Kathy accepts the loss of her first love to her first friend.

The children are encouraged to create pictures, poetry and sculpture, which may be chosen for display in a mysterious place called “The Gallery”. They are told that Hailsham children are special. They are told of dangers that befall children who leave the school grounds – the boy who was found tied to a tree with his hands and feet cut off, the girl who starved outside the gates. They are not told the truth. One teacher, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins from The Shape of Water) dares to tell them what will happen when they grow up, which gets her fired. She tells them,

“You will become adults, but only briefly. Before you are old, before you are even middle-aged, you will start to donate your vital organs. That’s what you’re created to do. And sometime around your third or fourth donation, your short life will be complete.

The film moves to their adulthood – at 18, they are moved out of Hailsham and sent to a collection of farm buildings called the cottages, to wait until they are old enough to move to “completion centres” where they will begin to donate their organs. Tommy (Andrew Garfield) is now in a sexual relationship with Ruth (Keira Knightley) which shatters the friendship of Ruth and Kathy (Carey Mulligan).

The people from the outside, the delivery men and others, are reticent, unable to make eye contact with the kids; they exhibit the kind of cognitive dissonance you might see from people on a petting farm, admiring a piglet that they know will soon be bacon.

These kids are not considered human, even though they are genetically identical to some “original” whom they desperately want to meet – the ‘real’ human from whom they were replicated. Ruth is convinced they must be less than fully human, that they are cloned only from

“trash – junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps, convicts, as long as they aren’t psychos. If you want to look for originals… look in the gutter.”

Tommy finds Kathy looking through porn magazines, flipping through quickly, looking only at the faces. She is looking for the “trash”, the less-than-humans from whom they may have been cloned.

The other young people tell them of a rumour about the possibility of Hailsham students getting a “deferral”—a temporary reprieve from organ donation if they can prove they are in love. Tommy decides that The Gallery at Hailsham was part of a study to see if clones have souls, can fall in love, and are therefore worthy of deferral. He becomes obsessed with finding the Gallery, and seeing if love, verifiable love, makes them human.

They are also able to volunteer to become carers for the others, and Kathy decides to do this, delaying thereby her own donations. She finds Ruth at a completion centre – Ruth has endured two donations and is ready, willing to complete on the next.

They visit Tommy at another centre, who tells them that Hailsham has closed, and donors are now raised in schools that are like “battery farms”. The donation centre is full of “donors” with missing parts – and they often die (or complete) after two or more donations.

Ruth has heard that after the fourth donation, there are no more carers, no more recovery centres, just harvesting of parts until they switch you off. Kathy cares for Ruth, who dies (completes) after her third donation, and Kathy then takes Tommy, still reasonably well after two donations, to see the mysterious gallery owner.

They’re in love, they tell her. They want a deferral. But the gallery was just part of an ethical argument – Hailsham was the last place where the ethics of the donor system were questioned, and the art was supposed to show what they were capable of. But they were exploring an answer to a question no one was asking.

“Would you ask people to return to darkness – the days of lung cancer, breast cancer, motor-neurone disease? They’ll simply say no…. We didn’t have the gallery to look into your souls. We had the gallery to see if you had souls at all.”

Films on www.thecannibalguy.com tend to centre around violence and gore. That is what people expect from horror and from cannibal movies. But this is not a horror movie, or at least not a monster movie in the traditional sense of the grotesque, frightening and uncanny. But is it a cannibal movie?

I believe it is. Definitions of cannibalism vary according to who is accusing whom. At what point does exploitation of the human body or mind turn to abuse or consumption? Organ transplants, where a living organ is incorporated into the body of a recipient, is sometimes called cannibalism, particularly due to speculation that some part of the ‘donor’ remains imbued – consider James Whale’s classic 1931 film Frankenstein, where the monster is given a brain stolen from the cranium of a criminal, which makes him homicidal. In any case, if an organ is taken without the consent of the ‘donor’, such as the alleged cases of political prisoners being executed according to the demand for their tissue-type, how is this different to Hannibal’s feasts?

The horror in this film is in the human struggle with questions of mortality, what it even means to be human. These kids seem to be normal people – they laugh, they sing, they tease each other, they fall in love. But they are aware of their own deaths, something that most of us repress more or less successfully, assuming that we will always have another tomorrow. They know better; they are destined to be cut up and emptied of organs until their bodies give out. They are not fully human, despite looking just like any other bunch of kids, because they are cloned, and so are classified as beneath the human line in the anthropocentric scorecard. They are at best “all but human” through their art. But the ‘real’ humans don’t care. Redefine someone as less than human, objectify them, be they a different race, gender or species, and the range of abuses is unlimited. Nothing matters but our delusion that we will live forever, necessitating the sacrifice of the other.

The critic Roger Ebert wrote:

“Essentially it asks, how do you live with the knowledge that you are not considered a human being but simply a consumer resource? Many hourly workers at big box stores must sometimes ponder this question.”

There is no option for resistance. They have been brought up all their young lives to obey, to believe that it is necessary to be cut up, to complete, for the benefit of unknown others, because that’s what they were bred for, just as we justify cutting up cows and pigs and chickens and lambs because that’s we bred them for. Only Tommy rebels, but it’s an inchoate howl of rage, the same scream at the butchering world that he aimed at the kids who didn’t pick him for their game when he was 11. Powerless, all he can do is bellow like a steer in an abattoir. It may be that defiance of death that verifies his humanity, because, as Dylan Thomas said, we ought to “rage against the dying of the light”.

Or as another Dylan said (Bob), “He not busy being born is busy dying.”

Kathy sums this up at the end:

“What I’m not sure about is if our lives have been so different from the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through. Or feel we’ve had enough time.”

Hell is in Hello: “MOTEL HELL” (Connor, 1980)

Lee Marvin “sang” these words in the musical Paint Your Wagon:

Do I know where Hell is? Hell is in hello…

Don’t know whether Director Kevin Connor got the idea from Lee Marvin, but he certainly borrowed from Texas Chain Saw Massacre, with an actual chainsaw duel between two brothers featuring at the climax of the film. Texas, in its own low budget way, revolutionised the horror genre, introduced slashers, and let us in on the world of the neglected, socially isolated “flyover zone” cannibal.

It’s also a spoof on Psycho – the killer in the motel, the unsuspecting travellers. You might also call it a precursor of the film Delicatessen that was considered on this blog last week: once again there are rooms for rent, human meat for sale.

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The motel is actually called MOTEL HELLO but the “O” keeps flickering off, thus giving the sinister name, and the title of the film.

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Vincent (Rory Calhoun) is a neo-lib dream: an entrepreneur who relishes his freedom to do whatever he likes in the name of business. The hidden hand of the market is his, and that hand carries a shotgun, or sometimes a chainsaw. Vincent runs the motel, but in his spare time (of which he has plenty) he ambushes motorists and stores them until he slaughters them and sells their flesh in his butcher shop as FARMER VINCENT’S SMOKED MEATS.

Simpsons fans will know Rory Calhoun of course!

Farmer Vincent’s is a family business, and Vincent’s sister Ida (Nancy Parsons) is involved in the process, which involves burying the victims up to their necks in the garden and cutting their vocal chords so they can’t make a fuss, then feeding them up like hogs until they are fat and edible. But Vincent fancies one of the victims, Terry (Nina Axelrod) and asks Ida to help her heal from the accident he caused. His kid brother Bruce (Paul Linke) is the local sheriff, and is as clueless as we expect local sheriffs to be, but he soon develops a crush on Terry. But she develops a crush on Vincent, so we know that (murder and cannibalism aside) there’s going to be trouble.

In a scene that perfectly parodies slasher movies, two little girls sneak into the smoking room, and with the requisite spooky backing track, are terrified by the scenes of carnage they see there – a lot of dead pigs. Only pigs, we might chuckle but, for Vincent, pigs and people are just the same: dumb animals good for nothing except slaughter and smoking for profit.

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Terry is pretty upset about losing her boyfriend (to whom she was not married, the religious Vincent notes), but he convinces her that being with them is “preordained”

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“Ah, the ways of the Lord are mysterious!”

Vincent’s methods of harvesting meat animals are not too particular: the local meat inspector who gets too nosy, a bus full of hippie musicians, even a pair of swingers whom he has lured with an ad – all get buried up their necks in the garden, unable to make any intelligible sound.

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He explains to Ida how important his various traps are, because “they give me a chance to be a free agent” and his work will remain special and important. Yep, Vincent is a classic neo-lib. As Ida pulls the latest victims out of the truck toward the holes he has dug, he tells her “plant ‘em!”. As they reflect on the strangeness of the hippies, they chant their motto:

It takes all kinds of critters
To make Farmer Vincent’s fritters!

As Vincent and Ida settle down to “plant” their critters and pull out the scalpels to cut their vocal chords, are they really behaving differently to the farmer who ties down a bull or hog to castrate him or to burn off his horns, or a sheep farmer who cuts hunks of skin off the backside of a lamb because it’s an easy way to avoid fly-strike (and saves money on insecticides)? They cleverly portray the hard work and care of farmers who really can see nothing wrong in the suffering they inflict for the sake of profit. He checks out one victim, smiling “not quite – tomorrow he’ll be ready to become famous.”

Terry asks how Vincent got started in the meat business and he tells her of the days when they couldn’t afford an icebox, and Granny would smoke anything she could catch – chickens, rabbits, frogs. One day, she asked Vincent to do something about an annoying dog who was barking, and that dog ended up smoked too. Did Granny know she was eating a dog, asks Terry, now repulsed, although she has just been enjoying Vincent’s smoked “ham”. Vincent replies:

Why Granny never put any distinctions on any of God’s creatures. She always used to say [Ida and Bruce join in the chant] MEAT’S MEAT, AND A MAN’S GOTTA EAT!

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Ida doesn’t like the wheezing and hissing noises the captives make as they try to talk without vocal chords. Vincent replies “They’re good animals! Not like taking care of chickens, or hogs.” Ida asks: “Vincent, do you think in the years to come people will appreciate us for what we’re doing here?” She goes on “Somebody’s gotta take a little responsibility for the planet!” Vincent and Ida are also ecologists, performing a valuable service by combating the scourge of human overpopulation.

The action is interspersed with the seemingly continuous telecast of a televangelist on the TV. Also with cannibal puns: as the swingers get ready for what they expect will be a wild evening (it will, but not quite as they hoped), Ida tells them “you look good enough to eat”. And the final credits roll to the Kregg Nance song “You’re eating out my heart and soul”.

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People certainly don’t like the idea of cannibalism, but they usually find it hard to articulate what is wrong with it, compared to eating other “critters”. For most, it is enough to say it is taboo, but that really begs the question. The genius of this film is that Vincent is not the usual psychotic serial killer type of cannibal. He is good humoured, kind, and has a strong sense of morality, seen in his choice of religious programs, as well as his shock when Terry comes on to him – he recoils, saying “we should be married first”.

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Well, they are going to get married, by none other than the local pastor, played by the legendary Wolfman Jack, a gravelly voiced DJ of the golden age of Rock.

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Ida drugs Terry, so that she and Vincent can go prepare the meat for the wedding feast. Vincent insists on offering his victims a humane death – he believes that “no animal should ever suffer any unnecessary pain”. Well, we nearly all believe that! Just a question of semantics – define ‘animal’. Define ‘pain’. And define ‘unnecessary’.

Anyway, Bruce is royally pissed off and starts looking for evidence against Vincent, and the “animals” start digging themselves out and staggering about in a scene reminiscent of just about every zombie movie.

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Terry finds out the truth, but it’s her version (what else could it be?) As far as Vincent is concerned, he is just preparing the wedding feast. He says:

Haven’t you ever cleaned a fish? There’s nothing cruel in what I’m doing here. I treat most of my stock better than farmers treat their animals. I don’t feed them chemicals or hormones. When you consider the way the world is today, there’s no question I’m doing a lot of them a big favour.

Terry ask him what right he has to play God. Vincent denies that is what he is doing.

I’m just helping out. There’s too many people in the world and not enough food. This takes care of both problems at the same time.

And that’s Vincent’s truth. And there is some truth in it.

The climax is the two brothers battling it out with chainsaws (a Texas Chain Saw reference) while Vincent wears a pig’s head on his head, which would not help his visual acuity much, but takes us to all sorts of interesting tropes, such as Animal Farm. The shock ending: as Vincent dies, he admits to his whole life being a lie, to being the biggest hypocrite of them all. Why?

My meat. I used – preservatives!

The film received a respectable 70% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The reviews range from “a rather well-executed dark comedy” to “tasteless, gruesomely awkward and moronic.” I liked it because it ticked all the boxes in my quest to understand cannibalism’s undermining of anthropocentrism. And Rory Calhoun is terrific – or as Montgomery Burns would say:

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Highway cannibalism: “The Road”, (Hillcoat, 2009)

Cormac McCarthy wrote his chilling book The Road in 2006 and won the Pulitzer Prize for it. I remember reading it at the time, and it was a very disturbing experience. Diving into the book was like one of those dreams where you walk out of the sunshine into a cold, dark and ominous environment. It left me both sorry and relieved to finish it. The sense of loss and wasted opportunity left a deep impression for weeks after reading it, maybe forever. The film captured some of this deep sense of menace and loss, but to a much lesser extent. Roger Ebert and many other reviewers praised the film, at the same time pointing out that it was not as powerful as the book. The Guardian reviewer summed the film up as intensifying the poignancy while deflecting the horror, and some of the more graphic examples of cannibalism are skipped in the film, particularly the finding of an infant’s corpse, all prepared for consumption by his desperate parents. But perhaps it’s an unfair comparison: experiencing a book through one’s own imagination is never really comparable to seeing the interpretation of the actors and director.

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So: what’s it about? Well, it’s post-apocalyptic. A great catastrophe has wiped out most life on earth, including most of the forests that we rely on for the very air that we breathe. The earth is dying; the voice-over tells us “No animals have survived, and all the crops are long gone”. We are never told what happened: there is a flash and there are two characters: man and boy. They are given no names beyond those.

“Cannibalism is the great fear”

The earth is stripped of life, the survivors of their names and their humanity. Armed gangs roam the highways, killing and eating anyone they can find. When the man shoots a member of a cannibal gang who encounters them on the road, he is left with only one bullet in his gun. It will be for the boy, if it should ever come to the point where the only choice is to kill him or let him be eaten. When they come across a big house, they find a number of people locked in the basement – kept for future meals. When the cannibals arrive, they hide in the bathroom, and the man gets the gun ready at the boy’s head.

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There is a lovely scene where they find a survivalist shelter and spend a few days eating as much as they want, and even bathing – feeling clean is an almost forgotten luxury. But there is a pervasive sense of dread, of a world spiralling down into total extinction. Viggo Mortensen from Lord of the Rings plays the nameless man, cold, dirty and desperate, Strider who will never become Aragorn. The mother is played by Charlize Theron in a lamentably brief appearance, and Robert Duvall makes an appearance as a nearly blind old fellow somehow surviving in a time with no hope. The man teaches the boy a stripped down deontological ethic – there are “good guys” and “bad guys”, and the good guys are “carrying the fire”. They also don’t eat people. It is a final grasp at a humanism which failed humanity and failed the planet.

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The impact of The Road comes from its feasibility. We know that we will probably not meet a psychopathic psychiatrist or even hairdresser, we don’t go to fly-over towns where the local abattoir workers have gone feral, we certainly don’t charter Uruguayan military planes to fly us across the Andes. But the threat of some sort of apocalypse confronts us from the front pages of the papers every day, in stories of natural disasters, nuclear wars, pandemics and environmental collapses. Human history is replete with examples of disasters followed by social collapse and cannibalism. The Road takes this scenario into our own time. We see the J-curves of human population matched by the same graph of species extinctions and carbon emissions, and we are forced to think – if the worse happens, what, or whom, will we eat?

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The movie is available on Amazon. So, of course, is the book!

 

Autocannibalism – you Reddit here first

This is not a movie review – they come out on Sundays.

So this is from Reddit, which is a social news aggregation, web content rating and discussion website. People post under pseudonyms, and then win points for how many people like the post. This means that stuff sometimes is, let us say, exaggerated. Reddit has over 200 million users. Which still doesn’t mean the stories are true.

However, nothing is guaranteed true in this world, not even promises to denuclearise, which you might think everyone would want to happen. Therefore: I’m giving this story the benefit of the doubt, and if it isn’t true, the dude went to a lot of trouble, so he deserves an up vote just for all the hard work.

Come on. If this was on a cooking blog, you wouldn’t even blink.

This guy, who calls himself Incrediblyshinyshart, served his friends tacos, made from his own amputated leg. He reported to Vice that he was involved in an accident a couple of years ago – a car hit his bike, and his foot was shattered to the point that he would never walk on it again. When the doctor asked if he wanted to amputate, his one question was, “Can I keep it?”

To make a long leg story short, he invited ten of his most closest friends to a special brunch. They ate apple strudel, they drank gin lemonade punches and mimosas. And then he served fajita tacos made from Shiny’s severed human limb.

The foot was not going to be fixed.

The full process is described in the June 12 on-line edition of Vice, and I don’t intend to repeat it all here. There were a number of pictures, some quite grizzly, which were not included in the article, but they did conveniently put in a link if you really want to go there. I don’t recommend it, but then I also avoid the meat section at the supermarket.

The article emphasised that what he did was in no sense illegal. Cannibalism can often be linked to murder (thank you Dr Lecter) or at least interference with a corpse, both of which are legally frowned upon. But this was his own body part, and did not involve a corpse – he is very much alive and kicking. [Sorry – Reddit is full of much worse puns]. The Legal Information Institute at Cornell makes it clear that, in the USA, there are no laws against cannibalism per se.

Why am I not surprised at the t-shirt caption?

The bit I was most interested in was: what did he taste like? His answer is quite comprehensive:

“People think it tastes like pork because in movies we hear it called “long pig.” But that term originated in places like Papua New Guinea, where they eat wild boar. They’re not eating our big, fat, domesticated pigs that have white meat. Boars don’t have white meat. They just don’t…. I think it’s more akin to that. This particular cut was super beefy. It had a very pronounced, beefy flavor to it. The muscle I cut was tough and chewy. It tasted good, but the experience wasn’t the best.”

The Reddit entry by Shiny is here.

Enjoy.

Revenge is (sweet) meat: “Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (Burton, 2007)

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Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, made in 2007, seeks explanations, rationalisations and even justifications for the depicted crimes of murder, cannibalism and various pure food offences. This version of the 19th century pot-boiler is a star vehicle and also a musical, a most unlikely format for a ‘slasher’ film. It is an adaptation of the Sondheim stage musical, in which Todd is an honest man wronged by a corrupt power establishment: Judge Turpin (the late, great Alan Rickman) has falsely convicted him and transported him to the colonies so that he, the judge, can abduct Todd’s wife, Lucy. Todd meets Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) who tells him Lucy was raped by Turpin and committed suicide, leaving their daughter a ward of the wicked judge, who now lusts for the young girl. In the twenty-first century, Sweeney Todd is not the entrepreneur that he was in earlier versions of the story, but the wronged anti-hero, and the forces of the law and government demonstrate the unregulated libidinism that previously characterised Todd. His plans to trap the judge thwarted, Todd wreaks revenge on all males (females being fortunate not to need barbers) with his cutthroat razors.

The abjection is constant, starting with the opening credits where we see streams of blood, mincemeat, pies going into ovens and more blood flowing into the sewer. The 2007 Todd is an artist: Depp’s portrayal is almost balletic in his use of the razor to slice each throat, and the viewer is treated each time to fountains of arterial blood. There is no polite avoidance of the cannibal question in this film: Todd and Lovett share a song where they speculate on the gastronomic features of different professions (she recommends priests). Todd puts this discussion in a social context:

“The history of the world, my love, is those below serving those up above! How gratifying for once to know, that those above will serve those down below!”

Despite this class-based comment, they agree to forgo the alterity that their working class roots would demand: “We’ll not discriminate great from small… we’ll serve anyone… and to anyone”. The reification of any adult male that comes into the shop arises not from Todd but from Lovett: he wishes only to waste everyone, to revenge himself on a society that has betrayed and (he believes) killed all those he held dear. She argues that this would be wasteful: “With the price of meat what it is, when you get it, if you get it; good, you got it!”

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Todd and Lovett never seem to eat their abject products; the pies being hugely financially successful they can, like the ruling class in Soylent Green, afford better fare. In fact, Lovett is presented as the psychopath in this version. She suggests the pie-making scheme despite her abjection at her rival’s use of local cats, and then, despite the young apprentice Toby’s clear devotion to her, locks him in the cellar with the corpses when he discovers the truth, and goes to fetch the murderous Todd. She is coldly rational like Hannibal Lecter, does no killing herself, and is in fact a perfect reflection of free trade capitalism, adding value to the raw materials that come her way. Todd is persuaded: the crunching sounds outside are “man devouring man my dear, and who are we to deny it in here?”

Todd almost kills his own daughter, who is disguised as a boy, finally kills the wicked Judge Turpin,  unknowingly kills his wife who is alive but insane, then throws Lovett into her own furnace when he discovers that she could have told him the truth. He once again kills for revenge, while Lovett dies not for her evil schemes but because she hoped to win his love. It is up to Toby, the innocent cannibal (he just loved Mrs Lovett’s pies), to slit Todd’s throat and thereby restore the social balance.

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Todd kills and dies because there are no legal recourses for injustice in Burton’s universe. Although he is a ruthless killer, the audience of the 2007 Todd is clearly invited to identify and sympathise with the anti-hero, much as we did the previous decade with Hannibal Lecter. Todd is a killer, but ordinary folks like us who jostle to get a table and eat one of Mrs Lovett’s delicious and very affordable pies are the real cannibals.

Sweeney Todd 2007 eating pies

Sweeney Todd received three Oscar nominations at the 80th Academy Awards: Best Actor in a Leading Role for Depp, Best Achievement in Costume Design, and Best Achievement in Art Direction, which it won.

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If you have any questions or comments, you can use the tag, or email me  on cannibalstudies@gmail.com.

The cannibal in the will: (Ingrid Newkirk, PETA)

There seem to be less heroes lately. If you watch the news, the heroes – the paramedics, the nurses, the teachers, the activists – those who choose to do good things because it’s the right thing to do – are usually unrecognised. The ones in the spotlight, the ones being treated as heroes, are the rich and famous, even the ones whose only claim to fame is being famous. The news cycle concentrates not on virtue but on suffering, and on vanity, fear, guilt and greed: the tools of the marketers.

I present for your consideration a hero of mine: Ingrid Newkirk, who founded People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) almost forty years ago, and has steered it into becoming the largest and most active animal advocacy organisation in the world, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters.

The PETA mantra is:

Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.

How does this relate to a cannibal studies blog?

Well, Ingrid Newkirk has put a number of requests in her will, one of which is:

That the “meat” of my body, or a portion thereof, be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal

Ingrid tells the press: I want it fried up with onions, because people find it hard to resist the smell of frying onions.  I can imagine them coming over and saying enthusiastically,  “Oooh, what’s that?’ and then, “OMG, it’s HER!” 

All abuse starts at the point where the proposed victim is objectified, turned from a living, breathing subject into a thing, an other, an “animal”, a piece of meat. To achieve this, we have all sorts of linguistic tricks which range from changing the names of victims (cows become “beef”, pigs become “pork”) to absurd suggestions that other animals are either mentally incapable or are automata that feel no pain. To make an animal brainless and painless, and therefore morally insignificant, is done through a nifty sleight of hand where non-humans are called “animals” and the Great Ape known as Homo sapiens somehow is not an considered an animal at all.  An example: reports from medical researchers will usually distinguish “animal” trials from “human” trials.

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Human cannibalism reminds us that we are animals, and that we are made of meat. It reminds us that, while we may be different to other animals (cognitively swifter than some, physically slower than others), we all suffer and die in the same ways. As Shakespeare said:

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?

One of the additional dangers of stripping moral worth from “animals” is that this can so easily be done to other humans who happen to be different colours, different genders, different faiths, different anything to us.

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We need to be reminded that we are not demi-gods, that when we eat or wear or laugh at or test on “animals” we are causing massive suffering to beings not essentially different from ourselves. Even if no one eats from Ingrid’s planned barbecue (which I hope will not be held for many decades to come) they will hear the message. And if this offer of a cannibal feast makes people question why they are willing to feast on other sentient beings, then one more hole will be made in the rotten edifice that holds up the death industries, the exploitative corporations whose existence future generations will rightly condemn.

The cannibal goes out and hunts, pursues and kills another man and proceeds to cook and eat him precisely as he would any other game. There is not a single argument nor a single fact that can be offered in favor of flesh eating that cannot be offered with equal strength, in favor of cannibalism.
             Dr. Herbert Shelton, Superior Nutrition

If you like my blog, please feel free to recommend it (with discretion) to friends on social media. If you have any questions or comments, you can use the tag or email me on cannibalstudies@gmail.com.

Silence of the Romans: “Titus” (Taymor, 1999)

Well, first off, it’s Anthony Hopkins as a sort-of-cannibal – a welcome return! Titus, the first filmic version of Shakespeare’s first tragedy Titus Andronicus, was made eight years after Silence of the Lambs, which had brought Hopkins fame and an Oscar for best actor. He had played other monsters in the years between Titus and Silence, including Richard Nixon and Pablo Picasso. A couple of years later (2001) he reprised the role of Hannibal Lecter in the movie Hannibal, so Titus was a handy reminder of that sudden Hannibal facial contortion. The movie Titus cost $25 million to make, and grossed less than a tenth of that, so it was, in technical language, a bomb. Shame, as it is a rollicking version of one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays, and the cast is sublime.

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Shakespeare was well aware of stories of strange foreigners known as anthropophagi, or as Columbus had named them “cannibales” (a corruption of the name of the Carib tribe whose neighbours had been telling him tall tales about them). Later references, particularly to the monstrous anagram Caliban in The Tempest, were more nuanced, probably due to his reading of the essays of Montaigne. But in Titus, although there is a POC or “Moor” who is a malevolent villain, it is not the Moor who is the cannibal, and the eating of human flesh is done neither for gustatory or psychotic reasons – it is an act of revenge.

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Titus refuses power in Rome, never a good idea in tragedies, and is subsequently betrayed by the Emperor Saturninus, a role camped up mightily by Alan Cumming, Alan Cummingand his bride Tamora, Titus’ sworn enemy, played by the splendid Jessica Lange. There is much bloodshed, even for Shakespeare, quite a lot even for a cannibal blog, but the act of cannibalism is an “innocent” one, in the sense that the person eating humans is not aware of the contents of the pie until digestion has commenced. Much like the Board of the Baltimore Philharmonic, unknowingly tucking into the second flautist around Hannibal Lecter’s dinner table.

baked in that pie

The cannibal, the person who eats human flesh, is Tamora, and the flesh is that of her sons, who have not only raped Titus’ daughter, killed her husband and cut off her hands, but have also cut out her tongue to stop her giving evidence against them (based on another Greek myth – Philomela). Yeah, that trick was never going to work, and so we find them hanging upside down, buck naked, while Titus explains his plans for them:

Hark, villains, I will grind your bones to dust,
And with your blood and it I’ll make a paste,
And of the paste a coffin I will rear,
And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
And bid that strumpet, your unhallowed dam,
Like to the earth, swallow her own increase.

Jessica Lange regrets

And so he does, and Mummy rather enjoys the pie, until Titus explains his little jest, and kills her. The Greeks of course were very big on revenge cannibalism – think Atreus and Thyestes – so Shakespeare had plenty of literary meat for his inspiration. Well, we’ve all been to awkward family dinners, but these guys take the cake. Or in the case of Titus, the pie.

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If you like my blog, please feel free to recommend it (with discretion) to friends on social media. If you have any questions or comments, you can use the tag or email me on cannibalstudies@gmail.com.