For those willing to brave cinematic depths and confront the most challenging celluloid, “Begotten” is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Inside a dilapidated shed in a barren wasteland, God disembowels himself. Emerging from his mutilated remains is Mother Earth, who proceeds to impregnate herself with his seed. She gives birth to Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone, and together, they embark on an arduous journey into the wilderness, where barbaric threats lay in wait.
THE BLOODY BACKGROUND:
Written, produced, and directed by E. Elias Merhige, who began work on the project in the mid-1980s, Begotten was initially conceived as a theater piece. When the project proved too costly, Merhige would pivot Begotten into an experimental motion picture. Filmed in and around New York City and New Jersey with the help of his theater group, “TheaterofMaterial,” the result of Merhige’s vision is a ghastly mutant-child of early silent cinema and the arthouse bizarre, which has continued to haunt the vast lists of the most shocking, disturbing, and gruesome films ever made.
THE DAMN DIRTY DETAILS:
If you’re asking me, I’d consider Begotten a poster child for cult cinema, one that continues to capture the attention of thrill-seeking cinema lovers like moths to an exploding sun from an alien solar system.
Upon its completion, Merhige began shopping the film to distributors, but no company would dare take a chance on this shock piece. After booking the film for several limited showings, a handful of film critics took notice of Begotten, and the film slowly started to gain a larger audience.
Since its arrival from the void that is Merhige’s cosmically vivid imagination, the film has generated a reputation of being incomprehensibly unnerving, a cryptic underground oddity that has left many bewildered and revolted in equal measure. Much like Mother Earth and her thrashing Son of Earth – Flesh on Bone, the film has drifted into the mainstream by way of Marilyn Manson, who took heaping doses of inspiration from the film while he was recording 1996’s “Antichrist Superstar,” which found the infamous shock-rocker collaborating directly with Merhige.
Inspired by a near-death experience by Merhige, Begotten’s availability has been largely scarce since its debut.
The film found a limited VHS and DVD run but has since gone out of print and has been only available through online marketplaces such as eBay, complete with inflated price tags. The film’s legacy continues to be fueled by online film bloggers such as myself, who all seem to agree that the film deserves to sit comfortably among the most disturbing motion pictures in existence.
THE HORRIFYING TRUTH:
Perhaps best known by the extraordinary ghastly image of God slicing up his belly with a straight razor, many gravitate towards Begotten with the misguided belief that the film plays by the rubrics of a customary motion picture.
No, Begotten rejects traditional filmmaking techniques and instead embraces a style that is destined to test one’s commitment to this journey. Outside of two title cards, Merhige works tirelessly to code the film for maximum subjectivity, and it consistently pushes the boundaries of our instilled expectations, particularly through its staunch ambiguity that will have many scratching their head to the point of developing a bald spot.
Without the saving grace of the end credits, we’d probably still be bickering over just who these characters are. It’s with these breadcrumbs that we have navigated this guttural dimension.
While the film packs countless pulverizing visuals, Merhige withholds dialogue and music, which would manipulate our emotions over the events playing out before us. Instead, he opts for background noise, such as crickets and dripping water, which I feel only amplifies the queasy, uneasy blanketing of our arrival at these unholy rituals.
Filmed as if he himself was stumbling into this plane and finding the spectral figure carving out his intestines, Merhige discombobulates us to the point of eliciting frozen shock in such a potent manner; I swear I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.
The camera peers into the crumbling shed to find a belching angelic shape, terrifyingly devoid of distinct features and gurgling a stream of blood, with soggy organs being tossed onto the blood-stained floors. It opens with a campaign of shock and awe, followed up by the “what-in-the-actual-fuck” appearance of Mother Earth (an arrival that is met with a few angelic strings on the soundtrack), who squeezes her breasts and stimulates God’s bloody corpse for a static camera, with body fluids aplenty that will nab a few gasps.
Things slow considerably from that point, and this is where I feel many begin to question if they want to continue as the film’s philosophical trappings become more and more pronounced.
The aforementioned lack of music, title cards explaining what we are seeing, and the film’s grainy, over-exposed appearance that often distorts the proceedings sadly give way to tedium.
Specific sequences are drawn out in seemingly real-time, with nary a cut in sight. Roving bands of faceless nomads torment the quivering, mud-caked Son of Earth for what feels like eternity, with chain-rattling bursts of graphic gore and lashing sexual assault to rattle us back into Begotten’s jaws when its bite weakens.
While I could offer up my perspective on Begotten’s deeper connotations, I feel as though I’d be just another person tossing their two cents into a well already over-flowing with an abundance of opinions.
Instead, I reserve this space for putting Begotten’s reputation for being a transgressive freakout under the microscope. That’s exactly why you are here. Who would I be to tarnish an experience that is vulnerable to your interpretation?
I personally like Merhige’s breakout horror show and have total respect for his avant-garde experiment. That being said, I stand with those who argue that the film grows tiresome after a while, but the sobering jabs of flesh-shredding violence keep you from succumbing to slumber.
So, bluntly, BEGOTTEN is massively disturbing, most specifically for those who persevere through the unforgiving hills of this gnarled world.
The violence surges with stone-age savagery while working out your cerebral muscles to exhausting effect long after the credits flicker out into the darkness of space.
Merhige pulls out all the stops to make sure he maxes out your level of discomfort while you dive into this interstellar splatter, where churrasco images bleed like a biblical Rorschach test woven out of bleached sandpaper and the skin of mythological beings.
Part of the shock factor lies solely in the way Merhige leaves you scrambling for answers within the splattered frames that sputter forth from this tear in reality.
Begotten is a raw nerve that continues to be exposed, one that the brave venture to with the belief they will be repulsed but come away confronted, scared, and brimming with wonder inside our hellishly primitive life cycle.