Copycat Killers 1.08 HANNIBAL: “A real life Hannibal Lecter comes to light”

The TV series Copycat Killers which debuted in 2016, attempts to match real-life crime with murder cases in film. The premise is really a bit of a long-shot. For example, episode 4 is called “Silence of the Lambs” and shows long lingering shots of the naked butt of serial killer Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill). It covers the case of a 14-year-old boy, Michael Hernandez, who cut the throat of a friend, and years later joked on the phone, from jail, about “skin suits” (Gumb’s main preoccupation) and Mason Verger cutting off his own face. The boy also, the judge revealed, listened to death-metal band Cannibal Corpse, a group that thrives on notoriety and violent lyrics, but does not, as far as anyone is aware, actually eat people or recommend that others do so. So this boy did not skin people, like Gumb, nor did he eat them, like Lecter.

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

The episode reviewed in this blog, episode 8, is also Hannibal Lecter-based. This particular killer, a German named Armin Meiwes, was nothing like the Hannibal in the books, the movies or the television show. Nonetheless, when the police searched his house, the solemn narrator tells us:

“even the most jaded detective on that case was sickened by what they found in that freezer…. Police had discovered a real life Hannibal Lecter.”

Pictures of Meiwes and Lecter are flashed on screen consecutively, to draw a visual conclusion that is hardly supported by the text.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

An actor re-enacting the Meiwes story cuts meat and drinks wine, which an on-screen expert (crime writer Lisa Coryell) compares to Hannibal’s line from the movie Silence of the LambsI ate his liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti”.

A Professor of Film Studies at the American University explains that Lecter’s elegance, charm and humour makes him “irresistible”. Hannibal, he says, is the top movie villain of the century, and there isn’t even a close second.

Meiwes, a German computer technician, advertised on a fetish website called The Cannibal Café for “a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. He actually received a heap of replies, but the only one that seemed sincere was Jürgen Brandes. The two met in 2001, had sex, then Brandes took a lot of sleeping pills and half a bottle of schnapps, and they collaboratively sliced off Brandes’ penis and tried, unsuccessfully, to cook and eat it with salt, pepper, wine, and garlic (it ended up in the dog’s bowl). Brandes went off to die in the bath while Meiwes read a Star Trek novel and, when he found Brandes still alive and suffering hours later, killed him and proceeded to eat quite a lot of him over the coming weeks and months.

vlcsnap-00005.jpg

When Meiwes started running low on flesh, he advertised again, and this time one respondent reported him to police, who found some of Brandes still in the fridge. Meiwes was charged with manslaughter as he had killed Brandes (at worst it was assisted suicide), and was sentenced to eight years. Due to the ensuing publicity, a retrial was ordered and he was convicted of murder, on the grounds that he had talked Brandes into giving permission to kill him, for his own sexual pleasure.

Silence of the Lambs and its sequel Hannibal caused, we are told in this doco, a surge of interest in cannibalism, leading Meiwes to pursue his obsession with cannibalism. Still didn’t make him into Hannibal though, IMHO.

A forensic psychologist who glories in the name Dr J. Buzz von Ornsteiner: tells us “I’ve worked with a lot of criminals within my criminal history. But this is by far the worst case I’ve ever encountered.”

The recreation goes into Meiwes unfortunate history with his controlling mother, one more thing that he and Hannibal do not have in common (you may remember from Hannibal Rising that Lecter’s mother was a delightful woman, who was killed in a duel between a tank and divebomber while he was still a small boy).

At the same age, Meiwes father left the family. From this trauma, we are led to believe by Dr Buzz, Meiwes decided the best way to keep people in his life was to eat them. The crime writer explains to us that

“If you’ve experienced loss as a child, as Armin clearly did, cannibalism is one way, it’s a sick way, to make sure that no one ever walks out on you.”

Now the idea that Meiwes and Lecter are cannibals because they lost one or more parents is pretty terrifying, since there are a lot of people to whom that applies. On that logic, you might as well suspect Princes William and Harry. However.

Once mum died, Meiwes was free to get on the internet and find others interested in his hobby.

vlcsnap-00015.jpg

vlcsnap-00017.jpg

vlcsnap-00018.jpg

Lisa Coryell (the crime writer):

“You couldn’t look at the facts of this case and not think of Hannibal Lecter.”

Well, actually, I think I could. Meiwes joined a chat room, something Hannibal did not do and would not do, even in the TV version (set in the Internet era). Brandes, his co-conspirator, wanted to be killed and eaten. Meiwes and Brandes were both convinced that this act of cannibalism would make their bond permanent. It is possible that Hannibal believes eating Will Graham would help Hannibal forgive him for his betrayal. Will, however, was not a willing collaborator in such a scheme.

Is there anything Meiwes has in common with Lecter? Buzz points out that “Somehow between these two men there doesn’t seem to be any value for human life”. I guess Hannibal would agree that human life is not sacred in any way, and that rude people are good to eat. Meiwes, on the other hand, seemed to have liked Brandes, and wanted to keep him around, or more accurately inside.

Brandes wanted to die, but he wanted to taste human flesh before he did so. The show finds a Hannibal parallel here: Hannibal feeding Ray Liotta’s character, Paul Krendler, a portion of his own brain in the movie Hannibal. But of course Krendler was not a willing participant, and once his frontal lobe was on the hotplate, he couldn’t be said to have had any opinions at all.

The rest of the documentary is full of some painful reminders of the speciesism with which philosophers from Aristotle to Descartes to Kant, and even Derrida, have considered the abyss between human and “animal”.

Lisa Coryell:

“Armin begins drawing on Berndt’s body to map out the places he wants to eat most. Armin was treating Brandes like a piece of meat, like an animal for slaughter and it defies humanity.”

It wasn’t of course “like a piece of meat”; it was exactly as a piece of meat. The commentators assume that we, humans, are not animals and are not made of meat, which is ludicrous.

Buzz sums up:

“he doesn’t think there anything wrong with killing someone provided they want to be killed.”

I spat out my tea at this point. It just reminded me of the scene from Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

Arthur: I don’t want to eat an animal that’s lying there inviting me to. I think it’s heartless!

Zaphod: It’s better than eating an animal that doesn’t want to be eaten.

The grave tone of the narrator and commentators of the show, and the ominous music, are intended to convey the extreme gravity of Meiwes’ crime. Meiwes meanwhile has reportedly been a model prisoner, and has also become a vegetarian. In 2018, his appeal to be eligible for release one day (he was given a life sentence) was denied, and he will probably die in jail.

Yet, when compared to other crimes, what has Meiwes actually done? He sought willing victims, men who wanted to die and fantasised about being eaten after their death. He helped Berndt commit suicide, delivering the coup de grâce only when he found Berndt still suffering hours later. He then followed Berndt’s fervent wishes by eating large parts of the man’s corpse. The police originally could not charge him with murder, because there was no evidence that he had intended to kill, until the suicide went wrong and he saw it as an act of mercy. It was the cannibalism that inflamed public opinion around the world, and forced the police to cobble together an appeal, which claimed that he had influenced Berndt to agree to the scheme, which was a bit absurd (he actually offered to take him to the train station if he got cold feet). The problem was that there was no law against cannibalism, and still isn’t in most of the world.

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

So the parallels with Hannibal Lecter are bizarre. Hannibal killed and ate people he considered rude and discourteous. He felt that they deserved it, that he was improving the gene pool maybe. He considered himself superior to the people he ate, just as the average carnivore considers himself superior to a cow or a pig. But what Hannibal does is considered murder, because of his intentions and the fact that the victims presumably did not want to be killed or eaten.

But after considering the case of Armin Miewes, we have to consider the question: if a being wants to die, and you help him along, and then eat him, is that really worse than confining a being who doesn’t want to die (from any species), deliberately killing him or her (or paying someone else to do so) and then eating their flesh? Which is what we humans do well over eight million times every hour of every day.

This issue is discussed in a simpler form in the Australian television series Rake. In a re-imagined version of the Meiwes case, the cannibal is a respected economist and the victim’s suicide is successful. There is no murder; all the economist does is eat the body, yet is told “you ate someone. You’re never going home”. Is that scenario also worse than the intentional killing of a cow or pig for human consumption?

If you think it is, please tell me why in the comments, or email cannibalstudies@gmail.com.

I’d really like to know.

 

NEXT WEEK: HANNIBAL Season 3 Episode 2.

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.

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00011.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00024.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00026.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

Lucy expresses disgust, and they all agree.

vlcsnap-00040.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00041.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00044.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00045.jpg

vlcsnap-00046.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00069.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00084.jpg

 

 

 

vlcsnap-00085.jpg

vlcsnap-00086.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00092.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00112.jpg

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

 

Does it taste like chicken?

vlcsnap-00131.jpg

Before long, Brandon is all gone.

vlcsnap-00132.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00140.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00156.jpg

vlcsnap-00157.jpg

vlcsnap-00158.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00166.jpg

vlcsnap-00167.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00175.jpg

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.”

vlcsnap-00218.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00232.jpg

vlcsnap-00233.jpg

vlcsnap-00235.jpg

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.

Poster.jpg

 

Next week: Episode 1 of SEASON 3 of HANNIBAL

“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.

Poster.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00013.jpg

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.

Crashes.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00039.jpg

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.

vlcsnap-00044.jpg

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

vlcsnap-00059.jpg

vlcsnap-00060.jpg

 

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.

Pic-00001.jpg

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.

Pic-00006.jpg

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

Pic-00007.jpg

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

Pic-00008.jpg

“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.

Pic-00011.jpg

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

Pic-00013.jpg

Luckily, Sabina, the sister, has an idea.

Pic-00017.jpg

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,

Pic-00022.jpg

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.

Pic-00024.jpg

Pic-00025.jpg

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.

Pic-00019.jpg

Pic-00020.jpg

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

Pic-00021.jpg

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,

Pic-00028.jpg

Pic-00030.jpg

Pic-00031.jpg

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:

Pic-00033.jpg

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

Pic-00032.jpg

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.

Pic-00037.jpg

Pic-00038.jpg

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.

Pic-00043.jpg

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

Pic-00046.jpg

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.

Poster1.jpg

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

Slapstick cannibals: BE MY KING (Lane, 1928)

Lupino Lane Be My King 1928.jpg

A short movie from Lupino Lane, who was the most famous of the English Lupino family, until eclipsed by his cousin Ida Lupino, one of the only female filmmakers working during the 1950s in the Hollywood studio system, and the first woman to direct a film noir with The Hitch-Hiker in 1953.

Lupino Lane stars in this short silent movie with his brother Wallace Lupino, who plays an older authority figure, despite being some years younger than Lane. The Lupino brothers later shot to fame with a show called Me and My Girl in the 1930s, which inflicted the song “The Lambeth Walk” onto an unsuspecting public.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

Lane is a cabin boy, shipwrecked with Wallace on an island, where they come across the obligatory foot print (think Robinson Crusoe).

vlcsnap-00002.jpg

Lane sets off to find signs of civilisation. Various animals cross his path – a chimp, a lion, a leopard, even an elephant, none of which he notices, until he is frightened by a rabbit. Wallace is captured by cannibals (male) while Lane is accosted by the females, who takes a bite at him.

vlcsnap-00004.jpg

He is captured by the male cannibals and taken to the – yes – cooking pot that was so much part of the myth of primitive cannibalism.

vlcsnap-00009.jpg

In fact, the trope of the sad-eyed missionary or sailor in a cooking pot surrounded by fierce savages with bones in their noses is perhaps the first image most people conjure up when (if) they think about cannibalism. There is, of course, no evidence that this ever happened anywhere, but there is some speculation that the story was spread by missionaries, as it did wonders for their fund-raising efforts.

Lane is rescued by the love of the chief’s daughter (think Man from Deep River) – and dressed for the wedding, while Wallace is fattened up for the feast. In fact, there are many precursors to the later cannibal movies in this absurd little piece.

vlcsnap-00014.jpg

This is a very early celluloid version of the white man in the cooking pot, which is why I have included it here. The movie is mostly very silly, but funny in parts, in that early Chaplin-esque slapstick way.

vlcsnap-00015.jpg

But there is a sinister aspect – this dismissal of ‘savage’ races as unquestionably cannibals was useful not just for mission fund-raising but also as a pretext for the invasion, conversion, subjugation and often extermination of the indigenous peoples of the lands that Europeans wanted to exploit. The uncritical acceptance by Western audiences of this image of the native as cannibal construed colonised peoples as racially degenerate, and made the appalling atrocities of colonialism somehow less bothersome, particularly to its beneficiaries.

This Youtube link below is actually not a trailer, but the complete movie.

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.

“No eat man, wrong!” ROBINSON CRUSOE (Buñuel 1954)

Although film directors have revisited colonial era stories of cannibalism with gusto, they have generally done so with modern perspectives. Cannibals in most films, therefore, are not the inhuman savages of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Rice Burroughs or Edgar Wallace. The ‘savages’ in even the earliest films are often presented with humour, for example Lupino Lane’s Be my King (1928), Crosby and Hope in Road to Zanzibar (Schertzinger 1941) or The Wrong Box (Forbes 1966) in which amorous cousins Michael and Julia are reassured that she is not a blood relation: she was adopted after her missionary parents were “eaten by his bible class”. In more serious depictions, the ‘savage’ is either a noble one, or at least is offered some humanity, and often his characterisation (we rarely see female savages) is given an ironic edge to criticise modern, “civilised” society. However, a positive image can be as degrading as a negative one.

00 poster.jpg

The example here of the cannibal as colonised savage is Luis Buñuel’s Robinson Crusoe (1954). Crusoe is, according to James Joyce “the true prototype of the British colonist… the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating taciturnity”.

vlcsnap-00001.jpg

Buñuel opens his film of the eighteenth-century novel with a shot of Defoe’s book sitting on an ancient map, a nod to the importance to film makers of classic literature. Crusoe (Dan O’Herlihy, who was nominated for Best Actor at the 1955 Oscars) tells us he was on a voyage

vlcsnap-00003.jpg

when his father’s warnings of disaster came true; we next see him struggling ashore amid the debris of his lost ship. The island, or at least a severely constrained and isolated space, was considered a prerequisite for cannibalism in the eighteenth century. All his shipmates, or at least the human ones, have been consumed by the sea. Barefoot and hungry, he cracks an egg he finds in a nest, but his European sensibilities do not allow him to eat the baby bird inside.

vlcsnap-00007.jpg

Unlike the savages he is yet to meet, he has little hope of surviving in the wild, but is saved by finding and plundering the wreck of his ship, salvaging building supplies, guns and flint to make fire (more important, he realises, than the gold in the drawer below). His whole focus is to secure himself against the wild world: beasts and savages. Although this is a long way from his early surrealist movies, this is still classic Buñuel, particularly the fever dream, reminiscent of his later films The Discreet Charm of The Bourgeoisie and Belle De Jour in which his giggling father pours water on a pig, while the delirious Crusoe begs for a mouthful.

vlcsnap-00016.jpg

On the island, European civilised life is represented by Crusoe and his weaponry, and Rex, a dog who has also swum ashore. He finds in a ship’s chest a cure for

vlcsnap-00019.jpg

tobacco and the Bible.

Buñuel seems to have felt Crusoe’s pain – he had been exiled from his native Spain for 14 years when he made the film, and was living in Mexico, having lost his job in MOMA after being denounced as a Communist. His longing for home while surrounded by “the other” is obvious in his character’s affection for the dog, while he is quite prepared to shoot birds and stamp on rats and spiders. He domesticates native goats and parrots, but is devastated by the death of Rex, feeling “now truly alone”. Sinking into eccentricity, he talks to two insects, “my little friends” and feeds them an ant.

vlcsnap-00023.jpg

But his difficulties on deciding which species of insects are friends soon escalates as Crusoe has to decide which humans deserve to be saved, and which sacrificed. The difference is their status: as cannibals or victims. His reunification with humans after 18 years comes as we follow his footsteps along the beach, only to be confronted with another distinctly human footprint. His abjection is immediate.

vlcsnap-00026.jpg

vlcsnap-00025.jpg

“Men-eaters! From that very land I had once thought to sail to. Revolted, horrified, all that night I watched the cannibals at their ghastly entertainment”.

Their guilt is assumed, but only confirmed after they leave and he comes across their fire-pit which is surrounded by human heads and bones: Typically, cannibal literature paints a “primal scene”, the proof of cannibalism, which is usually not the act of eating human flesh, but the aftermath.

vlcsnap-00034.jpg

vlcsnap-00035.jpg

Crusoe plots a technology-based massacre, including another dream sequence, this time of planting a bomb under their fire-pit, but realises

“I had no heaven-sent right to be judge and executioner on these people, who had done me no injury. I would leave them to God’s justice”.

This resolve is short-lived; seeing Friday (Jaime Fernández, who won a Silver Ariel award – the Mexican equivalent of the Oscar) escape from the cannibals, he steps in to kill the pursuers and rescue the boy. Friday bows to him in a homo-erotic scene in which Crusoe puts his foot on the boy’s head.

vlcsnap-00039.jpg

He explains that the boy will be called Friday, while Crusoe’s name is “Master” and that they are “friends”. The boy spits out Crusoe’s carefully harvested and baked bread, indicating that he would rather dig up the pursuers whom they buried earlier.

vlcsnap-00043.jpg

Crusoe sits up all night in fear of this new “friend”: “if the cannibals fail to come at me before morning, he might”. He won’t let Friday handle weapons; he shoots birds out the sky to frighten him and puts a strong door on his cave so he can sleep securely. He is reassured to watch Friday eat the flesh of animals, “knowing that the only source of that other meat he so relished”

vlcsnap-00049.jpg

He comes to appreciate once more having a servant. The balance of alterities, man to animal, civilised man to cannibal, master to servant, has been restored, yet his fear of the primitive cannibal increases. When Friday sneaks into his room hoping to try his pipe, Crusoe decides to put leg-irons on him, remembering how he had intended those instruments to be used on the savages he planned to carry off to slavery. But Friday is misjudged: “Friday love Master always.” He seizes Crusoe’s gun, but it’s a suicide plan – “kill Friday – no send Friday away.”

vlcsnap-00052.jpg

vlcsnap-00053.jpg

In a moment that crystallises the dreams of empire, Friday has become the good savage, brought to civilisation by the white man, even feminised when he finds a dress in Crusoe’s chest. The primitive cannibal has submitted to our will, but lovingly, in gratitude rather than through force. In the next scene, Friday is armed and helping hunt wild pigs, with Crusoe’s admission that Friday was “as loyal a friend as any man could want.”

vlcsnap-00054.jpg

But if Friday is to take on Crusoe’s civilisation, he must also accept his morality. Friday finds Crusoe’s gold coins and thinks them a gift from God. “From the devil”, Crusoe mumbles, but Friday goes off to make a necklace with these baubles, which in this closed circle are of value only to the savage. While they shave each other and share a pipe, Crusoe tries to explain the devil and his works – he also has evolved, or converted, from conquistador to missionary. Yet he is baffled by Friday’s broken epistemic posing of the problem of evil – why doesn’t God just kill the devil? Why is God mad when we sin, if he lets the devil tempt us? Friday, the innocent, the savage, baffles Crusoe, the colonialist, expressing Buñuel’s overt anticlericalism.

vlcsnap-00059.jpg

vlcsnap-00060.jpg

They are set upon by the cannibals and Crusoe is saved by Friday’s gun, just as Crusoe’s gun saved Friday years before. The civilised savage fights the cannibal savages for the life of the Englishman. His gunpowder exhausted, Friday kills the third cannibal in hand-to-hand combat, but the beach is swarming with others. Their preparations for a last stand are interrupted by gunfire; to their amazement the beach is now full of white men who are slaughtering the fleeing cannibals. Like Friday’s foes, these white men have prisoners tied up – their ship’s captain and bosun, against whom they have mutinied.

vlcsnap-00072.jpg

Friday and Crusoe free the prisoners, who agree to take Crusoe and “my man” to England if he helps them recover the ship, which of course they do in due course, tempting the ‘civilised’ mutineers, like the devil, with Friday’s gold necklace.

vlcsnap-00074.jpg

vlcsnap-00075.jpg

vlcsnap-00076.jpg

Dressed like an Englishman again, Crusoe makes a melancholy farewell to his kingdom. He has defeated the evil of the savages and the mutineers, whom he leaves to rule his kingdom.

vlcsnap-00078.jpg

vlcsnap-00079.jpg

Friday has witnessed the violence and oppression of the “civilised” white men, but avers that he is not afraid to go back to civilisation “if master is not”. He is already dressed as a servant. The cannibal can become tame, can learn to eat what he is told, but clearly he can never become “your own kind.”

 

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.