Leave it to a Frenchman to mess up your day. Thanks to this existential snuff film, that’s two hours and a chunk of my sanity I’ll NEVER get back. Though this is the first feature from writer/director Gaspar Noe, it’s actually a sequel to his 40 minute film, “Carne” (or “Meat”), from 1991. The events of that “Eraserhead”-like opus are covered in a series of “La Jetee”-style slides with narration by our ANTI-hero, an unnamed horsemeat butcher (Phillipe Nahon). We quickly learn the butcher is an orphan. His mother died early and his father was killed in a German concentration camp. He learned the trade of a horsemeat butcher and eventually earned enough to open his own shop. A factory worker with whom he had sex once produced an autistic daughter before jumping under a subway train. He raised his daughter alone. When she had her first period, he mistook the stains on her skirt for rape and attacked another worker with whom she had been seen. He went to prison and she was institutionalized. The movie picks up the tale in 1980. Fresh out of prison at age 51, he sleeps with the owner of the bar he tends and impregnates her. Dangling the promise of a new shop, she sells the bar and forces him to move in with her and her mother.
This is a man with no joy in his life. Anything he’s ever had has been taken from him. We watch the rest of the movie from inside the head of this butcher, hearing every thought, no matter how vulgar, violent, or despondent, that crosses his mind on a downward spiral of madness. Absolutely no hilarity ensues.
Let me say this: Under no circumstances bring your children, your parents, or your significant other to this cinematic Pandora’s Box. I would advise the vast majority of the female population to avoid this film. If you watch this film, you will probably see things you will wish you haven’t seen. Since I watched it, I felt like something crawled into my head and exploded. BUT! I’m still recommending it.
Why? I stumbled out of the theatre after rolling around the head of a very ugly, despondent man who in turn was stumbling over the line of pure evil. He barely talked to any of the other bottom-feeders in the film but he sure talked to the audience. That led me to the real purpose of this horror show. Any time you see something that disturbs or upsets you, you should ask yourself, “Why?” In this case, even though the butcher would express thoughts that contradicted each other, more than once he expressed something that had crossed my mind. In that moment, frighteningly, I could directly connect to him. After watching the monster perform horrible acts, I was left pondering the psychological distance between him and me.
About ten minutes before the end, Noe actually projects a printed warning on the screen to vacate the theatre if you would be offended by anything worse than you’ve already seen. He then tops what went before. Is this just manipulative filmmaking? All films are manipulative by nature, but great ones can draw you in to the absurd and that which is outside your world. Too many directors are unwilling or unable to provide such an experience, and some will traffic in shock (ahem, “8MM”) just to get an each emotional response. Gaspar Noe didn’t take this route. He never allows you to distance yourself from a horrible man doing horrible things. This is WAY beyond “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer”. You’re left with no mystery, only the real possibilities of the medium. You’re just better off watching it alone.