Somewhere right now, someone is performing acts of unimaginable horror. Fortunately, you will know nothing about it. Somewhere right now, someone is making a film depicting unimaginable acts of horror. Fortunately, you will not even know where it screens. And somewhere right now, an audience is enjoying as entertainment a movie depicting acts of unimaginable horror. Fortunately, you will not know of what it is like to sit with such people and see things as they do.
A film that saliently outlines these concentric rings of cinematic consumption is Tom Six’s The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) (2011). Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) is a story of a dysfunctional young guy (abused, overweight, catatonic parking attendant Martin, played by Laurence R. Harvey) who slavishly re-watches a DVD of the original Human Centipede (2009) with firm intention to perform for real that film’s grotesque operation of ‘sequencing’ humans together by surgically grafting each mouth to an anus so as to produce the titular entity. Despite the film’s unforgiving literality, HC2 is an unsettling synecdoche of how action in life is replicated in movies, and where their cinematised reception leads.
But do not misinterpret my thesis with A Clockwork Orange-era treatises on violence, society and the media: such arguments are anthropologically engaged in a minuet waltz for the intelligentsia’s liberal critique of failed social utopias. HC2 is unapologetically amoral in its discourse on the same: it forgoes social outcomes, aware that it is mired in the fiction of its own construction. Therein it perversely mirrors (in the true Hadean sense) the concentric rings of cinematic consumption, not to show how images ‘control’ people, but how people are imaged by their actions, plus how imagination affects action. Martin perceives what he sees depicted in the first Human Centipede is not real, yet possible. And this despite the flagrant impossibility of such a project. Yes, HC2 is playing out an offensive joke in mocking how those of diminished intellectual capacity ‘might’ copy what they see on the screen – but is the world today not full of women who ‘copy’ the Sex and The City franchise and men who copy the The Bourne Identity franchise, each while holding down disempowering corporate jobs? Furthermore, isn’t cinema the deluded party in believing its own hype, professing to be such an all-controlling medium in the first place?
If someone right now is performing acts of unimaginable horror, where exactly are such acts not occurring? The answer is the world that cinema – as a socially responsible vehicle – validates. It is saturated with medical and forensic saviours and teams who are righting the world by evidencing the precise technicalities of how one takes care of the world. From ER through to CSI and innumerable reality shows, that second concentric ring swells with men and women depicting how unimaginable horrors can be neutralised, cauterised, anaesthetised. It’s never messy, and it’s always designed to maintain faith in such professions. Why? So you’re reassured that when you get cancer, have a miscarriage, loose a lover or parent, you’ll have someone to turn to.
In HC2, Martin has no-one to turn to: he is the abject reality of the ‘do-it-yourself’ man. It is no accident that Martin is ‘inspired’ by a doctor, and that his instruments are from the hardware store and not the hospital. Reversing the original slasher/maniac movies of the 80s, his modus operandi of box-cutter knives, staple guns and duct tape is a retrograde operation more expected of someone’s limited resources than Hollywood’s limitless resources. Serial killers in today’s ‘torture porn’ have tools sharpened beyond even the ability of master samurai sword makers; Martin’s tools are as blunt as his methods.
Fortunately, I experienced the third concentric ring with HC2, watching it with a full audience at a preview at Melbourne’s Nova cinema, organised by the film’s distributors Monster Pictures on the eve of their resubmission of the film to the Film Classification Board (which has since been rejected). Crucially, the film was introduced by Laurence R. Harvey; weirdly, Laurence charmed the audience. He spoke simply and eloquently, always mindful of his role as an ‘entertainer’, and fielded questions in a disarmingly informative manner. Now everyone there knew they were in for something gross and vulgar, but their encounter with this, well, nice guy was a surprise. Even stranger, the film absolutely sides with Martin – not simply by portraying him as unbalanced due to excessive child abuse, nightmarish motherly rejection and consequent dissolute therapy, but by acutely showing his complete inability to be an agent of action in his pitiful world.
The power of HC2 lies in its imaginary projection of the powerless attaining power. Martin is effectively silent and invisible; he is neither seen nor heard. HC2 sees things as he does, and in doing so makes us hear him and see him (so long as you don’t look away). For some, cinema is empowerment Harry Potter-style, the hero waving his little-dicked wand amidst the software algorithms of hi-end VFX. For the audience at the HC2 preview, cinema is about disempowerment, as Martin wraps his little dick (yes, we saw it) around sandpaper and barbed wire as he masturbates and humps in a desperate display of sexual gratification. (Both brief scenes have been edited from the current release version in accordance with the FCB’s suggested changes. No worries: we still get Martin in all his impotency.)
In his infamous essay What Is It? (2006), Crispin Glover ponders why we did not see the purported self-made video statement of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who perpetrated the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. He laterally ponders the ramifications of such content entering into this thing we call cinema. Glover went on to realise such a dream when he co-directed with David Brothers It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine! (2007), based on cerebral palsy sufferer Steven C. Stewart’s film script about him having sex with beautiful women, then strangling them all because he knows they think he’s an ugly invalid. The film stars Stewart himself, and thanks to Glover’s aim to allow the unimaginable to be imagined, Stewart gets to live out his fantasies for real in this cerebral palsy hard-core tale. HC2 is that kind of film: it grants the incapable Martin the power to do exactly what he wants with the only means available to him. Isn’t that what Steven Spielberg has been telling us to do all along?