"Wants so badly to be the next "Eraserhead" you can taste it."
I'm always up for baffling experimental cinema. There's a fine line, though, between true art and a bunch of posers spasming about for the benefit of a director who will later make the proceedings even MORE impenetrable and pretentious in post-production. "Begotten" sprints across that line in its first five minutes.Like many bullshit artists (as opposed to true artists), E. Elias Merhige, who later made the hip, dreary Shadow of the Vampire and the high-toned thriller Suspect Zero, can certainly talk a good movie. A perusal of the booklet that comes with the DVD leaves you with no doubt that Begotten is meant to be taken as a ferocious cinematic convulsion dealing with The Very Stuff of Life — the mythical origins of existence, viewed sidewise through a shuddering, grainy camera mimicking cinema giving bloody birth to itself as the universe decays and burns.
Eyelids getting heavy yet?
How's this for an opener: God disembowels himself. Nice! Like everything else in the movie, it goes on forever, and eventually Mother Nature emerges from the gore and ripped flesh. She gets raped, or something, and some malformed guy quivers on the ground for about six, seven years with cloaked people all around him. Taken in very short doses, this might be visually entrancing. Projected on the back wall of a goth nightclub, it'd be right at home. Protracted for 78 minutes that feel like 178 minutes, it becomes aesthetically punitive.
Some, no doubt, will find it scarifyingly beautiful. But the technique covers an awful lot of emptiness and repetition. Begotten could've been a punchy 15-minute short and made the same ponderous point about the inherent lust and violence of nature. Hell, your average Tex Avery cartoon does a better job of that. What we've got here plays too much like an earnest repertory-theater group going through various bizarro configurations.
If nothing else, Begotten makes David Lynch's Eraserhead look like a cheerful, accessible romp. It also lacks Eraserhead's genuine heart and its roots in actual pain. It's essentially an art-major riff on the creation myth, and everything in it is photographed and filtered, not felt. Merhige's later cold projects bear this out. He's good at evoking nausea and boredom in roughly equal measure, but that seems to be all he has in his deck.If you enjoy projecting meaning onto stylish nothingness, "Begotten" is your movie. The rest of us may consider it the sort of art movie that gives art movies a bad name.