On man and impulses

Here’s my take on the Hungarian arthouse film,Taxidermia,which I caught last week at The PictureHouse,a wonderful gem of a place in downtown Singapore that’s dedicated to screening arthouse and foreign films.

There may be nothing explicitly or conventionally beautiful about the images one gets confronted with in the Hungarian film,’Taxidermia’,but it is hardly a debatable point that the film is a beautiful,albeit in a very twisted and grotesque way,portrait of man’s most primal instincts, which when given the free rein to be excessive,almost always get the better of us and rob us of what makes us human.

It tells the story of three men from three generations,and their own struggle and facing up to their primal instincts. There’s the soldier from World War II whose sole preoccupation in life is his penis and how to get his desires satiated. He fantasizes about having sex with his comrade’s vivacious daughters and their mother,and about ejaculating into the stars. By some strange twist of fate or fantasy,he impregnated the fat wife of his comrade and she gave birth to a boy with a pig’s tail on his buttocks.

This boy grows into champion sport eater,Kalman,who,along with other fellow eating sportsmen,demonstrated some of the most spectacular projectile vomitting I’ve ever seen in my life. The vomitting was disgusting,but it was also very real,and I was surprisingly not very turned off by the non-stop and voluminous vomitting. The real gory part came in the third generation,where Kalman’s son with another female champion eater,Lajos,becomes a taxidermist and all he does is well,to stuff carcasses of cats and wild animals. The actors were all quite breathtaking,and the quality of acting is commendable.

I liked the idea that there was a lot of excesses and extremities,how the soldier was focused only on getting his carnal pleasures satisfied,going to great lengths to masturbate everywhere;how Kalman made a living and sought meaning in his life through excessive stuffing of himself (to represent Hungary in the World Eating Championship in Norway), and how Lajos,perhaps the most extreme of all,performed taxidermia on himself,removed his inner organs and chopped off his head and right arm. It was all very gory,of course,but the surreal tone of the film made everything seem,paradoxically,real and natural. The close ups on the removing of the organs and intestines were quite shocking, but at the same time,you get a sense that it’s all real and natural,and the flesh and blood just gets better. I get the sense that there’s order in a very chaotic world these strange,twisted men live in,but that order came about at a great price. There’s also the suggestion that human beings are not that far removed from our animalistic instincts,with the director sometimes likening man to animals,and that is a point worth pondering about.

There’s the idea too that the film is a projection of our most primal instincts–impulses,sexual frustration,pulsation,vomitting, consuming, digesting,regurgitating and so on. But the images were well crafted and came across instead as beautiful–horrifying,perhaps,but beautiful. I think there’s great artistic merit on the director’s part. He’s shown a sophisticated handling of a morbid subject matter,and injects a lot of life and dry humour into it. There were several scenes where I couldn’t help but chuckle,such as when the sex-crazed soldier imagined that his penis could spurt out fire,and when the projectile vomitting took place on a collective scale across the competing stage. It’s strangely comforting to see horror and beauty complementing each other,but I love the idea that such a juxtaposition can bring art to a new dimension. )

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