Cannibalism costs an arm and a leg: THE BAD BATCH (Ana Lily Amirpour, 2017)

What do we do when dystopian stories start to look like the daily news? This film was made in the first year of the Trump presidency, which, you will remember, was partly won on the promise to build a “big beautiful wall” to keep criminals and rapists out of the USA. But what do you do with the criminals already inside the big beautiful wall? “Non-functioning members of society” are, in this dystopia, exiled, quarantined as “bad batch”.

Arlen (Suki Waterhouse) is bad batch number 5040, a number which is tattooed behind her ear, similar to the way Holocaust victims were stripped of their names and their humanity and became just numbers. She is then sent through the wall into a vast desert with little more than a sandwich and a bottle of water.

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She is almost immediately captured by the cannibals, the “bridge people”, who live in crashed planes and work out like Muscle Beach.

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The two women who caught Arlen hacksaw her leg and arm off, cauterise the stumps with their frying pan, presumably to keep the rest of her fresh, and go off to cook the limbs.

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Arlen escapes on a skateboard, pushing with one arm and one leg, and, just as she is about to be eaten by crows, is found by a hermit (an unrecognisable Jim Carrey!)

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The hermit takes her to Comfort, a settlement which seems to be a continuous rave club, run by a charismatic cult leader, The Dream (Keanu Reeves), who throws the parties and has his own harem of pregnant young women. In Comfort, they seem to prefer to eat noodles and rabbits (and lots of drugs) to human flesh, but – who knows? Like the bad bunch people, the camp structures are the rejects and wreckage of society – yet there never seem to be serious shortages of anything, particularly drugs. And The Dream lives in luxury, on the proceeds of the drugs, which are the currency of Comfort.

The folks at Comfort have given Arlen a prosthetic leg, but she still misses her arm. But one hand is enough to handle a gun. Is there some symbolism here that is even more Freudian than Trumpian?

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Meanwhile, back at cannibal HQ, the leader, Miami Man (Jason Momoa- you might remember him as Aquaman), is killing and carving up a woman for dinner.

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Is this going to be a simple good (rabbit eaters) vs evil (human eaters) story?

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Not quite. How can there be good and evil, when everyone is on the wrong side of the wall? Miami Man turns out to be a devoted Dad; he has a cute little daughter, and you know how much kids eat, right? Some of his tribe collect rubbish from the tip, others collect humans for dinner – is there a difference in a world where value is only assigned to those deemed worthy of being on the right side of the big, beautiful wall?

Arlen is gunning for revenge. She comes across the little girl and one of the bridge people women who kidnapped her, foraging for plates.

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She shoots the woman and takes the girl back to Comfort, buys her a rabbit. But then Arlen takes drugs, handed out at the party like Eucharist wafers, and wanders into the desert, to wonder at the glories of the galaxy, as you do when you take psychedelics (or so I hear).

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Well, we know there is going to be a meeting and a reckoning with the cannibal king. It’s hard to tell, though, who are the good guys in a world where everyone is an exile, and maybe a cannibal? As Arlen says to MM:

“Here we are in the darkest corner of this Earth, and we’re afraid of our own kind.”

The film is loosely based on a true story: the so-called “Cannibal Island”, a small island called Nazino in Siberia to which Stalin deported around 4,000 people declared to be “declasse and socially harmful elements” including political dissidents, disabled or impoverished people and criminals. They were dumped on the island with no food except some raw flour, which gave them dysentery. Before long, they turned to cannibalism. Two thirds of the deportees were killed or died of hunger and disease.

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It makes Comfort look positively comfortable.

The Vancouver North Shore News said “The Bad Batch could as easily be described as “a Futuristic Cannibal Spaghetti Western,” a dystopian genre mash-up.” It has a disappointing 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, and is admittedly a bit slow in parts (and a bit daft in others), but the cast is great, the photography often superb, and the political timing spot-on. Walls lead to wars, and the phrase “dog-eat-dog” should really be “human-eat-human”. Eating rabbits, eating humans.

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Because when it all hits the fan, whether it’s outside the wall or sleeping in the streets eating Soylent Green, humans are usually only one species barrier away from cannibalism. Expelled from under the thin camouflage of civilisation, we are all bad batch cannibals.

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“It was… intimate” HANNIBAL Season 2 Episode 10 “Naka-Choko” (Fuller, 2014)

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Intimate is the word for this episode. And hey, this is a cannibal blog, so all the sex going on might seem a bit out of scope, but stick with me, it makes sense. It’s all sex and death today. Sigmund Freud would have loved this episode.

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Everything Hannibal does has a purpose – a plan or, as Will would say, a “design”. He is always a dozen steps ahead of the chess game he is playing with Jack Crawford, which explains the huge punch-up that’s going to happen (we saw some of it at the start of episode 1 of this season).

What motivates Hannibal is what motivates us all. When we pad out to the fridge in the middle of the night, or he abducts a rude person on a dark road, we are concerned with two things: appetite and power. We are hungry, and we have the power to open a packet of instant noodles. Hannibal is hungry, and has the power to kill and cook people. Just a matter of opportunity, and belief. This hunger and lust for power is motivated, Hannibal believes (and I’m not going to argue with him, because that would be rude), by death.

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According to anthropologist Ernest Becker, most of us are motivated by a fear of death, and fill our time with convoluted ways to distract us from thinking about it.

Hannibal, and increasingly Will, are fascinated by it. Hannibal is a psychiatrist, so he is very familiar with Freud’s “death drive”. Freud had always assumed that humans are driven by the “pleasure principle” – we like things that make us feel good. Sure, but later, in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, he suggested another drive which, he felt, explained why we revisit unpleasant and traumatic memories, both in dreams and often in our compulsive behaviours. This is the death drive, which is in a way more primal, since life itself comes from the inanimate, and must perforce return there. While the sex-drive pressures us toward extending or prolonging life, the ego-drive pressures us toward death. Death, then, becomes a driving force in our unconscious.

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Will has seen this death drive from the start of the story, was repelled by it, then started to recognise it as personified in Hannibal. Will pictures death as the stag-man, or as @BryanFuller calls him, the Wendigo. The Wendigo is a figure from North American Algonquin folklore. He is a giant cannibal figure, who gathers strength from feeding on human flesh, but the flesh makes him grow larger, and so his appetite can never be satisfied.

The Wendigo bite will infect the victim and turn him into a Wendigo too. Just what Hannibal is hoping to do to Will.

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For much of this season, and at the start of this episode when Will kills the cave-bear dude, he has fantasised the Wendigo – when he pummels the guy, he visualises beating Hannibal.

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When Will cracks the guy’s neck, we see him twisting the Wendigo’s antlers. He is trying, symbolically, to kill both the Wendigo that is Hannibal, and the Wendigo growing inside him.

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Violence brings intimacy for Hannibal and Will. Will points out that they are now even – both have sent someone to try to kill the other. Hannibal tenderly bandages Will’s torn knuckles, raw from the beating he gave – whoever he thinks he was beating. Hannibal mutters:

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Will replies:

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They are not just even now, they are almost equal. Will has tasted blood, he seems to be becoming what Hannibal wants him to become. His vision at the crime scene is not his usual recreation of the crime (since he did it) but, instead, the dead guy telling him: “this is my becoming”

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Will replies:

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There seems to be, finally, a genuine love developing between Hannibal and Will – a Nietzschean love. Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

“In your friend, you should possess your best enemy. Your heart should feel closest to him when you oppose him.”

They have been enemies. Now they are ready to be friends, to feel love.

But Bryan Fuller doesn’t let us off that easy. Nothing is ever that straight forward in Hannibal. We suddenly get lots of sex, but it’s not our Übermensch lovers – it’s decidedly heterosexual, and Will and Hannibal are each shown in bed with, respectively, Margot and Alana, who will end up in a lesbian relationship with each other (sorry if that was a spoiler). There’s even an ironic view of Hannibal and Alana doing the pottery scene from Ghost, but with a theremin instead of a wheel.

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The sex is long and graphic, there is lots of groaning and sweating and some ecstatic expressions, but it is all exploitation.

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Hannibal is using Alana as his alibi for his nightly outings, as we will see. Margot Verger wants a male heir so she can kill her brother and still get her inheritance (an idea nurtured by her psychiatrist – one Doctor Lecter).

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Hannibal and Will morph in and out of each other, and at one stage both are in bed with Alana. And, never far away, is the wendigo.

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And we finally get to know Margot’s brother, Mason Verger, who, unlike the 1999 book and 2001 movie of Hannibal, has a face (at the moment). Mason is heir to a hog empire, and is busy breeding a pig that is willing to eat living humans.

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He intimidates Margot with these pigs (not hard as he has had her clothes filled with meat to tempt the porkers). He invites Hannibal, who is not easily intimidated, and knows as much about pigs as Mason:

“A resourceful feeder and an opportunistic omnivore”

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We find out something else too, something which becomes central to the attempts in the later books and movies to find a causality to Hannibal. They discuss Margot, and Mason asks if Hannibal has a sister.

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Mason is impressed with the visit, and Hannibal goes home with a new client and a suckling pig, which he serves to Alana and Will.

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He got the pig, he tells them, from a friend. “A friend of yours. Not a friend of the pig’s” Will comments snarkily. Hannibal’s reply is a veiled threat:

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A fascinating discussion of Will and Hannibal’s relationship follows, complicated by the fact that Alana and Hannibal are both psychiatrists and can’t leave their work at the office. Alana points out that “it’s hard to know where you are with each other.” Will replies that “We know where we are with each other. Shouldn’t that be enough?” Hannibal summarises this triangle as he gazes into his wine glass:

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We’re back to interpreting Hannibal as Satanic. Not my preferred reading, but Fuller hands out no obvious explanations in a plot that is up there with Greek Tragedy.

Anyway. Enough of the sex and exploitation and dead baby pigs. It’s time for the blood bond of the Übermenschen. Hannibal has heard about the Will Graham interviews, and waits, wearing his killing suit, for Freddie Lounds to come home to a nice surprise.

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But Will already has Freddie in his remote shed, where she has found bits of the cave-bear dude. Now it’s time for dinner. We finally get some cannibal talk! Will is apprentice cannibal, Hannibal the master chef. Will says

“I provide the ingredients. You tell me what we should do with them.”

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Now Hannibal gets the rules of the game. “Veal? Pork perhaps?”

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Hannibal offers to make a Peruvian dish called lomo saltado, and hands Will a sharp knife to cut up his meat, a definite gesture of trust, or maybe a tease. Now they are playing with the thin red line between pleasure and pain, eros and death drive.  As they eat, Hannibal analyses the meat: it has notes of citrus. It tastes “frightened”. Will asks “what does frightened taste like?”

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Look up “long pig” – it is widely used as a term for human meat, supposedly coined in the cannibal Pacific islands, and probably a mistranslation. Good enough for Hannibal, though, to know what Will is claiming. They are eating Freddie. Will is claiming he has swapped sides and is the cannibal’s apprentice. He reverses a speech Hannibal makes in Silence of the Lambs, where he chides Clarice for her insistence on trying to find what happened to make him the way he is.

“Nothing happened to me, Officer Starling. I happened. You can’t reduce me to a set of influences. You’ve given up good and evil for behaviourism…. You’ve got everyone in moral dignity pants – nothing is ever anybody’s fault. Look at me, Officer Starling. Can you stand to say I’m evil?”

Will turns it around: he says “I’m not the product of anything”.

 

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Will has, he is claiming, given up good and evil, gone where the universe has taken him. And that is to Hannibal’s dinner table. They discuss the nature of evil – Will says it’s destructive. In that case Hannibal argues (again from the Silence of the Lambs) storms must be evil. And fire, and hail. Or what underwriters call “acts of God”.

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Not gods. Übermenschen.

 

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