Monday, 6 July 2015

the human centipede 3 (final sequence)

at a certain point in the human centipede 3, dieter laser’s character, prison warden bill boss, looks directly into the camera and says ‘hey, cockroaches! do you like these movies?’ 

in the context of the film it’s a question to the 500 inmates who have just sat through back-to-back screenings of the first two human centipede film. it’s also a direct question to the audience and a clear reminder that we’re once again in the realm of the theatre of cruelty.

bill boss is the warden of george h w bush state prison and he and his accountant, dwight butler (laurence r. harvey sporting a toothbrush moustache that is more oliver hardy than adolf hitler), are struggling to find new ways to keep the inmate population under control. when governor hughes (eric roberts) gives the two of them an ultimatum they devise increasingly extreme ways to force the prison population into submission. while boss favours genital mutilation and boiling waterboarding, butler has another idea, something he saw in a movie once…

compared to the bleak, arthouse aesthetic of the second film, this is a sun-drenched, slapstick, over-the-top comedy. much of the action takes place in boss and butlers’ office in scenes that are written and staged like almost like a traditional british farce. from the moment laser and harvey speak it’s clear that between laser’s occasionally incoherent ranting and harvey’s southern drawl with a hint of wigan there will be no attempt at naturalism here. if the second film had elements of looney tunes cartoons, this film plays like an extended episode of south park, only much more determined to offend.

laser’s performance made the first film work just as harvey’s carried the second one, and the two combined make a truly demented double team. harvey’s butler is actually the most likable character in the film, which is saying something as he’s the one advocating the human centipede. he manages to take the misunderstood loner elements from his character in the second film and use those characteristics to make butler almost endearing. meanwhile, laser’s performance is a hundred times more insane than that of the first film. he makes use of every inch of the frame every second he’s on camera, which is pretty much every scene, and sometimes his enthusiasm seems so genuine it almost disguises the content of the dialogue, so lines like ‘thank god for female circumcision’ almost slip under the radar before you think, 'did he really just say that?'. it’s an incredibly physical performance, with every rant and offensive tirade coupled with appropriate (or inappropriate) gurning and thrusting and occasionally even dancing. he plays boss as someone who delights in the suffering of others, to the point where he is even quite explicit about being sexually aroused by it. whatever laser is doing, it works. boss is one of the most disgusting, despicable characters ever portrayed on film and laser makes sure that he’s completely unforgettable.

like the second film, there’s no real narrative tension in the human centipede 3. yes, boss and butler face losing their jobs if they can’t control the inmates, but we’re never really tasked with caring about them all that much. the conflict of the first half of the film is butler needing to convince boss that the human centipede idea will work, and once he does convince him (by bringing in director tom six, playing himself) the drama becomes more about whether butler and the prison surgeon will be allowed to finish the centipede before boss kills everyone. but that’s not the real story here; there’s something much more interesting going on.

when boss is explaining what he intends to do to the inmates after screening the first two human centipede films, i couldn’t help thinking of a scene from the da vinci code. there’s a moment in the book where robert langdon is lecturing a prison population about art. dan brown’s intention in that scene is clear – you, dear reader, are uneducated scum and i’m here to save you from your own ignorance. six has a similar approach here, and it’s quite clear that the 500 inmates represent us, the audience. however, in the case of the human centipede six isn’t trying to educate his audience but offend them. it’s easy to transpose boss’s frustration at his failed attempts at forcing the inmates into submission to six’s frustration at being unable to truly offend those watching his films, until he finds a new way to do so. the idea of the prisoners as the audience is never more explicit than in the screening scene, when one of the prisoners stands up and declares the human centipede films are harmful and should be banned, echoing the bbfc’s ruling on the second film. this theory holds up until six himself appears in the film and shows that even his character is disgusted by what is happening. this suggests that perhaps the film isn’t necessarily about a filmmaker's struggle to reach new levels of depravity but is perhaps a comment on cinema in general.

there’s an element of the human centipede 3 that feels very much like a satirical statement about american culture as a whole. as characters, boss and butler are parodies of over-used hollywood stereotypes and there are frequent shots of the american flag and shades of the national anthem in the score. as the second film referenced the gritty realist films of mike leigh and ken loach, the third film is a clear parody of the hollywood machine. six has stated that his trilogy was supposed to be a centipede itself, and this idea works in the way that each of the previous films are incorporated into the next like waste passing through the human digestive system. from there, it’s easy to make a comparison between the shit that passes through the human centipede and the perceived state of the hollywood product, with the same ideas being swallowed and excreted over and over again by a captive audience. at times, it feels like this whole project was both a comment on hollywood movies and a challenge to the studio system, because whatever you think of six’s work it can’t be denied that there is originality here. on this basis, it becomes apparent why six distances himself from boss by appearing in the film. it’s not about his frustration at being unable to truly offend, it’s about his disgust with the state of mainstream cinema.

taking all this into account, lets look at the one female character in the film. bree olson plays boss and butlers’ secretary. daisy. in her very first scene she is subjected to a casual sexual assault from boss and things only get worse for her from there. daisy only exists in the film to be abused, with no opportunity for revenge. even when beaten into a coma her suffering continues. to make matters worse, she serves no purpose in the story, with even the hint of narrative purpose in her relationship with butler coming to nothing in the end. she is an extreme and utterly abhorrent example of female objectification at it’s most vile, and on the surface seems like a crass and ill-advised attempt to offend anyone with even the vaguest belief in gender equality. except by being so deliberately offensive, it becomes completely inoffensive.

in my review of the human centipede 2 i went off on a bit of a tangent about the representation of women in game of thrones, a show that remains revered and critically acclaimed despite the rampant and unnecessary objectification of women in every episode. my point about the second film was that it’s hard to be offended at something that is at least honest about what it is. in this film I think six is actually making a real point about the representation of women in mainstream cinema. 

daisy is a perfect example of the token female character. in the majority of hollywood movies, the token female character exists to be objectified i.e. to look pretty for the male audience members, usually not wearing very much. occasionally she will be put into peril (or ‘damselled’) to drive the story forward, if she's really lucky she will be raped or killed or both in order to give the male protagonist a reason to take revenge. the treatment of daisy in the human centipede 3 is no different to the treatment of the token female character in most movies, it’s just that six is honest about it. if your female character exists only to be an object for the male gaze with no narrative purpose, then why not have her casually raped and brutalised? what does it matter? the poor representation of women in films is offensive when it’s casual, and though i’m loath to mention the overused bechdel test, the point of that test was to point out how widespread this casual misogyny really is. by making the objectification so obvious it’s abhorrent, six not only makes his token female character less offensive than the norm but also makes a bold statement about the representation of women in films. while i perhaps wouldn’t go so far as to call the human centipede 3 a feminist film, i do believe it has a strong and effective feminist message about the way hollywood presents women.

that last thought ultimately sums up what i took from the experience. bill boss has no respect for his audience, he wants to line them up, force feed them junk food, and then watch as the shit passes from one audience member to the next. why does he want to do this? because he wants his audience to be submissive. he wants them to take whatever he is feeding them without complaint and in doing so further his own career. bill boss isn’t a caricature of a prison warden, he’s a caricature of a hollywood producer. it’s hollywood movies that are depraved and disgusting. it’s hollywood movies that are casually and discreetly racist, misogynist and worse. whatever you think of this film, it puts all its ugliness upfront where it can be seen. that’s more than you can say about most films, hollywood or otherwise. it’s this hypocrisy that six is directly attacking with his work, and i think he should be applauded for having the audacity to do so.

i can’t say i thoroughly enjoyed this film, much like the other two entries in the trilogy, but i did appreciate it. there is genius at work here, not the kind of visionary, high-definition christopher nolan-type genius that most filmmakers aspire to, but a vulgar, antagonistic and ultimately realist genius that we need more of in cinema. tom six may not be the best filmmaker of the twenty-first century, but he is certainly one of the most important.

the human centipede 3 will be released by eureka and monster pictures in selected cinemas from 10th july 2015, and on blu-ray, dvd and vod on 13th july 2015.

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