Objectivist Movie Reviews: The Human Centipede


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WARNING: SPOILERS AND POTENTIALLY DISTURBING CONTENT!

The Human Centipede is a somewhat infamous Dutch horror film (directed by Tom Six) well-known for its rather stomach-churning premise.

Specifically, the film is about a mad surgeon named Dr. Heiter. Heiter used to specialize in separating conjoined twins, but now he's pioneering the field of reversing that process; he's started sewing people together.

In The Human Centipede, Heiter kidnaps three tourists (one Japanese man and two American women) and sews them to each other.

Mouth to anus.

Specifically, the person in the 'front' defecates into the mouth of the person in the middle, who in turn defecates into the mouth of the person in the back.

This premise, whilst certainly unpleasant, has its pros; after tons of horror films which have desensitized us to blood, one can imagine that going on to other bodily substances could make a horror film much more effective.

As an Objectivist movie review, this article shall look at two factors; 1) the cinematic merits and flaws of the film, and 2) its philosophical content.

Cinematic Considerations

The film certainly is quite effective. The premise itself is grisly, and the movie's content certainly works.

The acting of the two girls in the centipede (Ashley C Williams and Ashlynn Yennie) is also very good. Given their condition (stitched into someone else's anus), they can't actually speak. However, they manage to convey very effective emotions using just grunts, gestures and their eyes. But even before they are sewn into the centipede, their acting is commendable; their fear as Heiter explains his plans to them is completely believeable.

Dr Heiter (played by Dieter Laser) as a character is acted in a divisive fashion. Certainly, many critics have praised his acting, but on the other hand, many will find him overacting. He comes off as a clear case of "obviously evil" and some of his lines are bombastically delivered; clearly some members of the audience will find him hammy and campy.

Yet at other times, Heiter truly oozes a fantastic level of menace. Especially during the scenes in his basement-operating-theatre, but also in many parts in the later stages of the film, he really manages to be truly disturbing.

Strangely enough, the film's gore is understated; creative use of bandages helps conceal the worst of the worst.

Other impressive parts of the cinematography include the creepy slightly-greenish sterility of Heiter's operating theatre, which really works to deepen the atmosphere of the film.

But, apart from the occasional hammy "ITS ALIVE!!"-ness of Heiter (which may work for some and may not work for others), The Human Centipede does have its flaws.

First, there are plot-holes. The Centipede seems to find escape impossible owing to the spiral-stairs leading to Heiter's basement, and yet Heiter himself has no problem getting the centipede onto the higher level of the house whenever he wishes. An unseen elevator maybe? Still, there's no explanation provided in the film.

Second, the premise itself will probably put off plenty of audience members. This isn't necessarily bad per se, but it does mean quite a few people won't enjoy the flick.

Finally, the character at the lead of the centipede commits suicide at the end of the film (the person behind him, of course, is still alive). He gives a rationalization for this suicide, but it honestly comes off as completely implausible. His motives just pop out of nowhere and he then slices his throat with a shard of glass. But the motives will be returned to later, in the next segment.

That said, The Human Centipede is refreshingly novel in a horror genre over-saturated with remakes, slashers and ripoffs. A flawed but original horror film, it clearly is something fans of the genre should see.

Philosophical Considerations

Unfortunately, the philosophical message the producers wish to portray in the film is clearly not Objectivist-compatible.

One may ask how "anus to mouth; the movie" could possibly be philosophically deep. Well, it is another of those "mad scientist" films, and fully embraces the philosophical subtext of that genre.

In this case, the mad scientist is Dr. Heiter, who has a god complex. He considers himself to be god, for he can create new creatures (specifically, a human centipede) using only his own intelligence. The Japanese man at the head of the centipede repeatedly highlights this fact, asking Heiter if he really thinks he's God.

In other words, The Human Centipede argues that Dumb Is Good, because apparently, if you get too intelligent, you might somehow commence an attempt to sew three people together, anus to mouth! If you get too smart, in other words, you'll get too proud. Get too proud and you'll start to consider yourself Godlike and have a right to abduct your 'lessers' and stitch them up so that they have to consume each-other's crap forever.

This is a clear case of anti-Prometheanism; a belief that man must be humble for greatness is reserved for the Gods and if man grows proud, man does evil.

The mad scientist premise is based on this attitude; a belief that profound transgressions occur when man "plays god."

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm an intelligent man. And I've never attempted to sew people into a human centipede. Nor have I ever believed that my intelligence entitles me to exert control over my 'lessers.' Sewing people up into human centipedes isn't exactly the logical extreme of pride in one's intellect.

However, it may be possible to provide an Objectivist-compatible reading of the film (note, this would not be consistent with the author's intent, but who cares).

Let's take Heiter's god complex literally. What if the film is seen as a commentary on man's relationship with god (i.e. the theme of Blade Runner)?

In most large forms of Christianity (which is the relevant perspective given the film is made by Europeans who are obviously familiar with the concept), God is an omniscient entity that by sheer will creates new life-forms (just like Heiter). God, like Heiter, demands absolute control over his creations. Heiter of course routinely degrades and humiliates his centipede; he trains it like a dog, feeds it dog food, and keeps it caged. God, like Heiter, punishes and torments disobedient subjects; Heiter regularly whips the centipede with a riding crop. Thanks to the concept of God, we've had many wars over the 'right' God to worship and inflicting sufferring on each other as a result. And thanks to Dr. Heiter, the members of the centipede give each other crap constantly!

This may be a completely demented rationalization in the attempt to find a positive message in such a grisly film. However, a specific and implausible event in the plot may be a strong piece of evidence in support of this reading; the suicide of the man in the 'front' of the centipede.

Katsuro (the Japanese guy) is instrumental in the centipede's escape attempt; he stabs Dr Heiter repeatedly (albiet without killing him, in an example of cinematic stupidity that will have you yelling at the screen) and helps the centipede get out of the lab and up the stairs. But finally, when Heiter confronts him, he loses hope.

He then looks up a Heiter and begins in a slow, confessional tone; he deserves to be sewn into the centipede, for he was selfish towards his family. He accepts his fate, picks up a shard of glass, and then slits his throat right before the Doctor.

In other words, Katsuro offends and transgresses against God (by stabbing Heiter). He runs from God, but then God confronts him. At this point, Katsuro then begins buying into Heiter's God Complex; he says again "do you really think you're God?" and then begins his confession.

He confesses to his evil; selfishness. Basically, after accepting God, he accepts altruism. And then, after his confession, he reaches for a shard of glass and ritualistically offers himself up as a human sacrifice to his God by slitting his own throat.

Of course, one might argue that in cutting his own throat, Katsuro was being 'selfish' (in the common use of the term) because the woman behind him was still alive (the woman at the very back of the centipede was dead by now) and by killing himself he's dooming her too (and apparently, the first thing you do after you die is defecate. He obviously isn't particularly concerned about the woman behind him!). But I digress.

Yes, the moment jumps out of nowhere; why would Katsuro suddenly start accepting Heiter's godhood? Why would the man that showed such motive power to fight back suddenly accept damnation? Why would a man so convinced with the evil of selfishness kill himself and leave the woman in the middle to die?

But even still, the moment does make a good, Objectivist-compatible portrait of what happens when people start (consistently) accepting (most types of) Christianity; first one accepts one is a sinner and deserves to suffer, one accepts it is evil to be selfish, and finally, one offers himself up as a living sacrifice in an act of gruesome penance for one's 'sins.'

Conclusion

To summarize, The Human Centipede is a unique and disturbing horror film. Whilst not without its flaws, fans of horror will enjoy this film.

Objectivists will be put off by the anti-Promethean slant that, like all mad scientist works, this film has. However, if author intention is set aside, the film makes for an interesting and Objectivist-compatible commentary on the relationship between man and (the concept of) god.

However, I can only recommend the film to those with a strong stomach.

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In The Human Centipede, Heiter kidnaps three tourists (one Japanese man and two American women) and sews them to each other.

Mouth to anus.

And I thought this South Park bit was original!

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And I thought this South Park bit was original!

LOL, no, unfortunately. South Park was deliberately parodying the film. I had to admit I loved that episode :)

Any other thoughts on the review/discussion?

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WARNING: SPOILERS AND POTENTIALLY DISTURBING CONTENT!

He obviously isn't particularly concerned about the woman behind him!). But I digress.

Yes, the moment jumps out of nowhere; why would Katsuro suddenly start accepting Heiter's godhood? Why would the man that showed such motive power to fight back suddenly accept damnation? Why would a man so convinced with the evil of selfishness kill himself and leave the woman in the middle to die?

However, I can only recommend the film to those with a strong stomach.

Thanks for the excellent description - I'll skip this one, I reckon. B)

There is another take on the apparent unselfishness of Katsuro - and his apparent callousness toward his woman 'twin' and parasite, that, faced with the impossiblity of a rational life, accepting there was no way out, he took the only moral action of ending his life, and her's with it.

When egoism and compassion intersect, perhaps.

Personally, though I like your "Man meets his cruel Creator" metaphor, I prefer this reading.

Katsuro's my hero!

Tony

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Any other thoughts on the review/discussion?

No, I haven't seen the movie, and based on your writing it doesn't look like something it's for me.

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No, I haven't seen the movie, and based on your writing it doesn't look like something it's for me.

That's understandable. It certainly isn't a film for everyone.

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Thanks for the excellent description - I'll skip this one, I reckon. B)

Understandably. It certainly isn't a film that will appeal to everyone.

There is another take on the apparent unselfishness of Katsuro - and his apparent callousness toward his woman 'twin' and parasite, that, faced with the impossiblity of a rational life, accepting there was no way out, he took the only moral action of ending his life, and her's with it.

When egoism and compassion intersect, perhaps.

Problem with this reading is that nothing Katsuro says could possibly indicate any trace of egoistic/mercy-kill motive. Plus, he's Japanese and let's be honest; egoism is an even less popular morality in Japan than it is in the West.

Personally, though I like your "Man meets his cruel Creator" metaphor, I prefer this reading.

Thank you! Glad you found it enlightening/enjoyable/interesting.

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As an Objectivist movie review, this article shall look at two factors; 1) the cinematic merits and flaws of the film, and 2) its philosophical content.

Good review, but those up there were your first two mistakes. This is highly-evolved (?) subculture stuff, and subjecting it to those considerations will only make you cry. Or at least throw up in your mouth a little bit.

Now, if you want to see a real amazing turd, check out "The Astral Factor" (1976). I managed to see about as best a cut as you can see over at pub-d-hub (which is basically goes through Roku). Oh my, it is a real piece of work that one. You can kind of get a treatment here:pub-d-hub astral factor

Not to be confused with the later stuff by the same name. Oh, this one is a real stinker.

r

Edited by Rich Engle
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Thanks for the excellent description - I'll skip this one, I reckon. B)

Understandably. It certainly isn't a film that will appeal to everyone.

There is another take on the apparent unselfishness of Katsuro - and his apparent callousness toward his woman 'twin' and parasite, that, faced with the impossiblity of a rational life, accepting there was no way out, he took the only moral action of ending his life, and her's with it.

When egoism and compassion intersect, perhaps.

Problem with this reading is that nothing Katsuro says could possibly indicate any trace of egoistic/mercy-kill motive. Plus, he's Japanese and let's be honest; egoism is an even less popular morality in Japan than it is in the West.

Personally, though I like your "Man meets his cruel Creator" metaphor, I prefer this reading.

Thank you! Glad you found it enlightening/enjoyable/interesting.

Getting ahead of myself - not having seen it obviously, I am going on your fine review which made me feel I had.

Hopeful conjecture on my part that's really wishful-thinking to elicit some value from the film.

Still, it is an interesting exercise considering the gap between what the artist intended, and what one actually takes from his work. Which is more important: his meaning, or your perceived value? Never worked that out yet.

Your original assessment of another in the genre of 'evil scientist playing God', is most likely correct.

Tony

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It's funny to me the whole thing came up at all. We watch a lot of horror over here. Shoot, all the way down the the oldest of the old. Centipede came up on Netflix, and I gave it fifteen minutes. That's what you can do with a lot of modern horror flicks.

Anyway, I didn't like the idea in the first place, meaning that it was kitsch in a place where that is hard to define. I thought what I saw of it was pretty much shit <---joke.

You have to try harder than that to do a good B or general horror film. I just didn't like what I saw and I bailed. My bad. Stupid idea, though.

r

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Your original assessment of another in the genre of 'evil scientist playing God', is most likely correct.

Its certainly what the author intended, going by his statements in interviews.

But I still think my suggested reading is at least defensible.

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Your original assessment of another in the genre of 'evil scientist playing God', is most likely correct.

Its certainly what the author intended, going by his statements in interviews.

But I still think my suggested reading is at least defensible.

For sure.

Edited by Rich Engle
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