Delve Into the Dark with 'Begotten'
“Begotten” is a truly disturbing yet artistic depiction of the cycle of life. The black and white film is an experimental dark horror fantasy, based on the nihilistic philosophy that life has no meaning.
“In Begotten, a time is depicted that predates spoken language; communication is made on a sensory level,” director E. Elias Merhige said.
The first few minutes are certainly menacing. It begins with a “God” disemboweling itself with a straight razor, and despite the low quality, it is still revolting. The death of the god results in Mother Nature emerging from the corpse, who impregnates herself with his blood and semen, ultimately giving birth to a full grown convulsing man.
The group of wandering humanoids defile the woman and kill the man, depicting the rape of Nature and the destruction of Man. They are then dismembered and pounded back into the earth, starting the cycle of life once again.
“Begotten” was intended to be part of a trilogy, but uncertainty of the other two films came with lack of funding. “Din of Celestial Birds,” the second installment, was eventually made in 2006. This film is based on evolution rather than creation and has been released in a 14-minute version intended as the prologue.
Edmund Elias Merhige began development of this film in 1984. He was the director, but also worked with the cinematography, special effects, writing and the production. It took over three years to film in various locations. For a 20-day period, they shot on a construction site on the border of New York and New Jersey.
According to reports, the idea for the film came to Merhige after a near-death experience in a car accident. After “Begotten,” Merhige directed “Cryptorchid,” a music video for Marilyn Manson. The video even reused footage from “Begotten.” He then went on to direct “Shadow of the Vampire” in 2000.
The cast are actors from an experimental theater group, Theater of Material. The cast includes Brian Salzberg as God Killing Himself, Donna Dempsey as Mother Nature and Stephen Charles Bay as Son of Earth.
In order to give the film the withered look, a 16mm Arriflex camera on black and white reversal film was used, and the unshot negative was run through sandpaper to scratch it up before shooting. Merhige also built an optical printer himself, since the budget wouldn’t allow one.
Post-production took about eight to ten hours to edit one minute of the film. It took approximately eight months in total for the full 72-minute film. The movie was released on June 5, 1991 and has received various different reviews regarding its sinister ways.
The movie has been criticized for its vapidity, yet some say this movie is not made for entertainment. Instead, its meaning is to portray a message in an experimental and artistic manner. Unfortunately, the film could have been much shorter and displayed the same message. Even though it might be for artistic purposes, the repetition and pace of the film takes away from the ominous images and the significant message.
This film is truly original, delving into a style of filmmaking that no one has ever attempted before and which most filmmakers are too afraid to do. The compelling use of sound, the grueling imagery, and the complex theme leads the viewers to understand the deeper meaning of the film, rather than looking at the surface of old, silent and boring films.