A few thoughts: A Squashed Centipede

(Originally written June 8th, 2011)

The British Board Of Film Classification (BBFC), in a rare move, has refused to issue a rating to The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence), a follow-up to one of the most infamous horrors of the last few years. The decision means that the only way to see The Human Centipede II in Britain will be by the doubtless countless numbers of illegal copies that will become available once some more countries inevitably repeat the ban.

Once you get past the initial shock of the central conceit of The Human Centipede (three people are stitched together anus-to-mouth by a mad scientist to form a continuous digestive tract), it’s a fairly conventional horror with a few guaranteed scenes of stomach-flipping action and a surprising line in black comedy. According to the BBFC’s summary, which is both detailed and spoiler-filled, The Human Centipede II is too preoccupied with sexual pleasure being derived from the torture and suffering of others to be released. The film centres on a man who recreates the events of the first film to fulfill his sexual fantasies. Of particular note are scenes which involve sandpaper and barbed wire (the details are in the BBFC report). The BBFC, like many other film classification bodies, is particularly concerned with the portrayal of sexual violence, and it is this portrayal that has earned The Human Centipede II a ban in Britain.

This is one of the times where the line between censorship and good taste becomes blurred. For the record, The Film Cynic believes bans should only come into play when actual violence against people or animals is involved. However, the reasons outlined by the BBFC do make a point about the pointless portrayal of violence in The Human Centipede II. To quote the BBFC summary:

“There is little attempt to portray any of the victims in the film as anything other than objects to be brutalised and degraded for the amusement and sexual arousal of the main character and for the pleasure of the viewer. There is a strong and sustained focus throughout the work on the link between sexual arousal and sexual violence and a clear association between non-consensual pain and sexual pleasure.”

This comes in the wake of the debacle surrounding last year’s Srpski Film (A Serbian Film), which was only released with heavy edits. A Serbian Film became infamous when one of the scenes that was removed for the released edit gave rise to the term ‘newborn porn’ (which is pretty much exactly what you’re thinking). Screenwriter Srdjan Spasojevic claims the film is an allegory for the Serbian experience after decades of civil war and ethnic cleansing. The (alleged) aim of Srpski Film is unquestionably to shock, cause debate and arouse emotions, albeit to highlight a message that may or may not be lost in translation.

This does ultimately lead back to the more basic question of who exactly gets to decide on classifications and bans in the first place? Most (if not all, as far as this critic knows) classification boards consist of unelected public servants. Some members will have a background in media, but there is unquestionably a need for input from filmmakers and other experts (academics, critics, etc.) in the regulation process, at least to give consideration to the oft-neglected issue of context in a film. Violence often acts as a commentary on something beyond itself; surely those with knowledge of the context in which the violence is proffered should be the best judges of whether or not the violence is acceptable. Besides, most any regulator believes in the ability of those who are of legal age to choose their own entertainment. As the BBFC say, however, their ability to ban a film, which may include “portrayals of sexual or sexualised violence which might, for example, eroticise or endorse sexual assault” can override that individual ability. Despite high profile cases like the case of James Bulger (the toddler’s pre-teen murderers were alleged to have seen Child’s Play 3 several ties before the murder, but the allegation was subsequently disproved), copycats of actions in films are rare (A Clockwork Orange been an infamous example), and no film has ever been cited in a murder trial as an influence on a defendant. Logically, how likely is it that anyone would ape the events of The Human Centipede after one or two viewings? If they did, there would have to be some other underlying psychological problems to commit such acts. People don’t just snap, and certainly not just because of a film.

However, does the issue of context enter into the case of The Human Centipede II? When asked for a response to the BBFC ban, director Tom Six responded:

“My dear people it is a f****cking MOVIE. It is all fictional. Not real. It is all make-belief. It is art. Give people their own choice to watch it or not. If people can’t handle or like my movies they just don’t watch them.”

Therein lies the point: Six is making something that is NOT REAL (calling it art might be a stretch, though). Film boards over the years have gradually moved away from censorship towards classification and advice. The Human Centipede II may get a UK release sometime in the future; more importantly, if/when it does, no-one is under any obligation to watch it. If/when this critic sees it, the review may be negative, but at least the option of watching it was available.

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