Cannibalism in Literature and Film

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Rich and poor alike become crackers.

The 11 Creepiest Cannibals from Movies and Literature

It is one of the most revealed spoilers of any film, with those who have never seen the film knowing the quote, thanks largely to a satirical version on Saturday night live Schager The savage Lupino Lane in Be my king Lane In comedy, cartoons and many other areas of popular culture, cannibalism is associated primarily with images of savages dancing around a cauldron in which white men sit stoically awaiting their fate.

Bhabha , p. The resulting stereotypes construe the colonised as racially degenerate, thus justifying invasion and imposition of civilisation , p. Longhurst , p. Yet, as Creed , p. The island, or at least a severely constrained and isolated space, was considered a prerequisite for cannibalism in the eighteenth century Konishi , p. All his shipmates, or at least the human ones, have been consumed by the sea. Barefoot and hungry, he cracks an egg he finds in a nest, but his European sensibilities do not allow him to eat the baby bird inside.

Unlike the savages he is yet to meet, he has little hope of surviving in the wild, but is saved by finding and plundering the wreck of his ship, salvaging building supplies, guns and flint to make fire more important, he realises, than the gold in the drawer below. His whole focus is to secure himself against the wild world: beasts and savages. On the island, European civilised life is represented by Crusoe and his weaponry, and Rex, a dog who has also swum ashore.

This propensity to instant alterity even between species of insects soon comes to a head as Crusoe has to decide which humans deserve to be saved, and which sacrificed. The difference is their status: as cannibals or victims. His reunification with humans after 18 years comes as we follow his footsteps along the beach, only to be confronted with another distinctly human footprint.

His abjection is immediate. From that very land I had once thought to sail to. Their guilt is assumed, but only confirmed after they leave and he comes across their fire-pit which is surrounded by human heads and bones: Hulme observes , p. This resolve is short-lived; seeing Friday escape from the cannibals, he steps in to kill the pursuers and rescue the boy. He comes to appreciate once more having a servant. The balance of alterities, man to animal, civilised man to cannibal, master to servant, has been restored, yet his fear of the primitive cannibal increases.

When Friday sneaks into his room hoping to try his pipe, Crusoe decides to put leg-irons on him, remembering how he had intended those instruments to be used on the savages he planned to carry off to slavery. Cheyfitz , p. While they shave each other and share a pipe, Crusoe tries to explain the devil and his works - he also has evolved, or converted, from conquistador to missionary.

Why is God mad when we sin, if he lets the devil tempt us? The civilised savage fights the cannibal savages for the life of the Englishman. Their preparations for a last stand are interrupted by gunfire; to their amazement the beach is now full of white men who are slaughtering the fleeing cannibals. Dressed like an Englishman again, Crusoe makes a melancholy farewell to his kingdom. He has defeated the evil of the savages and the mutineers, whom he leaves to rule his kingdom. He is already dressed as a servant. The film however is replete with images of physical and metaphoric incorporation and abjection: eating, corpses, excrement, violence and humiliation.

The film is almost entirely set inside the upmarket restaurant Le Hollandais which has been bought by gangster Albert Spica Michael Gambon who torments and humiliates the patrons, staff, his men and his wife Georgina Helen Mirren. Sinnerbrink observes that the restaurant metaphorically presents a reversed alimentary canal: the back door with its dog-shit is the anus, the stomach is the kitchen where the food is processed and finally the dining room is the mouth, the site of cultured discrimination, but also of abuse.

While Spica eats and belches and spouts abuse and absurd bon mots, Georgina escapes, in brief interludes, to have a sexual and then a loving relationship with the very refined bookshop owner Michael Alan Howard , with the connivance of the cook, Richard Borst Richard Bohringer. The world of the restaurant is surreal, with each room coloured differently and the costumes of the protagonists changing to match as they move between them.

Tables in the kitchen and the dining room are groaning under the bodies of dead birds and mammals. Spica shows little distinction between his three pet subjects: food, excrement and sex. He forces an enemy to eat dog-shit, his men gorge on the fine dining and vomit on the table, and his wife reveals that sex for him involves only violence and degradation. The film has widely been interpreted as a protest about the politics of that time, with the thief as Thatcher and her greedy plutocrats and the lover as the ineffectual left opposition, the cook as the civil service and the wife as the people, being alternately wooed and abused.

Spica and his crew debase the high culture of Le Hollandais with their ignorance, crudity and violence. The cook is a film about abjection, but also desire. Cannibalism reduces the human to a roast dinner, but at the same time questions the limits we increasingly need to put on our meals. The inhuman Sally is offered her old friends for dinner: The Texas chain saw massacre Hooper Inhumans are of our species yet apart: something has gone wrong.

Yet they reflect a powerful fear that the fault is not accidental but part of a social dysfunction that threatens all normative civilised practices. We do not need psychoanalytic explanations of the behaviour of these monsters, yet we identify a shadow, be it ourselves or that of someone we recognise.

When the Hillbilly or the urban sociopath captures, kills and eats us, we whisper explanations about economic distress, abusive parents, traumatic stress. We do not just fear the inhumans; we fear becoming them. Any conversation about the topic of cannibalism soon raises the spectre of Hannibal Lecter, and specifically his first appearance in The silence of the lambs Demme Surprisingly, the film is not specifically about Lecter, nor are there any obvious cannibalistic acts performed although some are discussed.

Films featuring inhuman cannibals routinely offer psychiatric observations to explain their actions. Creed highlights that psychoanalysis and cinema were both born at the end of the 19th century in the cradle of modernity , p. It is convenient to dismiss cannibals as insane, particularly those who do not have the excuse of starvation or primitivism, as how else are we to explain their apparent willingness even delight in doing what we assume would disgust us?

Herz , p. This lack on their part may be a symptom of mental illness, yet the films considered show other motivations that may be harder to reconcile with normative social behaviour. The Texas chain saw massacre Hooper The Texas chain saw massacre was named by Total Film as number one of the fifty greatest horror movies of all time Graham, It spawned a number of sequels and prequels, but none as groundbreaking as the original. Magistrale , p.

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Night of fear was banned as too violent, and the blogger Hal Astell wondered if Hooper had decided to make Texas chain saw bloodless, to avoid censorship. The chain saw is wielded by a particularly striking villain named Leatherface, so called due to his predilection for wearing a mask made of human skin.

It was filmed on a tight budget against expectations it might never be cleared for exhibition. He particularly liked the rapid montages of the survivor Sally screaming, with extreme close-ups of her bulging eyeballs, expressing all the foam flecked terror of any animal who realises she is about to be slaughtered. The protagonists are a group of young hipsters who are driving their Kombi through Texas to check on the grave of the grandfather of Sally and Franklin, following reports shown in graphic footage during the credits of graves being desecrated and robbed.

Besides the disabled Franklin, the other four beautiful people are entirely two- dimensional, laughing at the quaint locals, reading horoscopes and heading off into unimagined horrors when looking for a non-existent swimming hole. Franklin does most of the talking, more so even than Sally, his sister, the only survivor, whose role is mostly to scream and run and scream more.

Franklin reminisces about their grandfather whose grave they are checking and the abattoir where he used to sell his cattle. The cows queue for death as the young people drive past, on the way to their own identical slaughter.

Cannibals in Fiction

They pick up a hitchhiker who tells them his brother and grandfather work at the slaughterhouse. The family turn out to be not only intellectually disabled but mentally very troubled indeed: the wild-eyed hitchhiker is the brother of Leatherface who occasionally puts down the chain saw and dons an apron to take a feminine role in the house of slaughter. Texas makes clear the reification of both human and non-human in its graphic scenes of slaughter, and reveals almost non-stop abjection from the time the first city-slicker wanders from the oddly ominous family home over to the apparent normalcy of the slaughter house next door.

As the kids are slaughtered, we hear the sounds of pigs grunting, see a captive chicken awaiting her fate, in a room filled with the bones and skins of several species, particularly H. Is the film a disguised polemic against farming and slaughtering animals? He also claimed that Guillermo Del Toro, no shrinking violet himself in abject film- making, gave up meat after seeing it. Who among us, Hooper seems to ask, is not a cannibal? The silence of the lambs Demme The silence of the lambs is, almost without exception, the film that people first mention when I talk about this thesis.

This is a little surprising as, although the male lead, Hannibal Lecter Anthony Hopkins , is a psychopathic cannibal, for most of the film he is incarcerated, and even post-escape he is not seen actually eating anyone although he certainly discusses the idea with some gusto.

The silence of the lambs has become something of a cinematic classic, while the sequels and prequels have largely faded from memory.

Butler in the Chicago Tribune credits Silence with legitimising cannibalism in the movies, with its star cast and haul of all five major Academy Awards - best picture, best actor, best actress, best director and best adapted screenplay. Before this, Butler claims, cannibalism was limited to exploitation films. The film is a psychological thriller with Hannibal Lecter, an evil genius, trading insights into the most private neuroses of trainee FBI agent Clarice Starling in exchange for his profiling of the serial killer, Buffalo Bill, whose very name totemically animalises him Wolfe , p.

Bill is killing and skinning women to make a woman suit. He is pure monster, closer to the gender-challenged Leatherface than the urbane, sophisticated, civilised psychiatrist Lecter, who remains a mystery. A pure psychopath. The psychological or legal weaponry of modern society is useless against such primitive, raw power; Staring is sent to interview him like the lamb of the title being led to slaughter.

Cannibalism Literature Film by Jennifer Brown

Buffalo Bill has captured his latest victim, Catherine, daughter of a powerful US Senator, and there are only days or hours before he kills and skins her. Starling is a victim, though: of chauvinism from her colleagues, mental probing from Lecter and stalking in the dark by Bill, but she is smart, well trained, strong and sassy, standing up to her boss when he uses the chauvinist card: she is the perfect example of the suffering woman becoming the avenging hero Clover , p. Jancovich , p. His power to terrify is precisely his amiable, civilised charm: we would rather be scared of cannibals who wear leather masks and grunt.

Convinced he is transgender a diagnosis denied by the authorities he imagines himself aroused by his female persona that he is building from the hides of murdered women. Bill is a depraved cannibal in the sense that he incorporates human parts into his persona, but it is Lecter, the deprived cannibal in the asylum, who is the protagonist.


The silence of the lambs trades in extreme close-ups: Starling usually pensive, Bill leering and imagining a valid sexuality. Lecter, however, is directly threatening. It is us that he is addressing, analysing, threatening. Under the threat is a keen humour, often rare in the genre.

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She tried to free the lambs, took one and ran, but was caught and sent to an orphanage. She has made the lambs subjects, while Bill makes his victims objects. The social order is very commonly defined in film by showing not examples of it but characters or events that transgress it. Similarly, Starling transgresses social boundaries with her challenge to masculine power structures and her role as the rescuing hero rather than the hero-victim.

Wolfe refers to discourses of gender, class and species as ideologies: they relate to each other and to the relations of power in independent ways that is, are not analogous. His opinion is that the most important discourse in this film is that of species , p.

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That figure in this film is Hannibal Lecter , p. He is consumerism taken to its logical conclusion. Lecter transgresses all humanist suppositions about the fate of murderers. Wolfe points out that our modernist expectations are not overridden but satisfied by the killing of Bill; this leaves room for a postmodernist ambivalence towards Lecter and we can leave the cinema well satisfied with his escape , p.

The entrepreneur Innocent cannibals having old friends for dinner: Sweeney Todd Burton Lindenbaum , pp. Eating others for profit has been treated satirically in films such as Eat the rich Richardson and Consuming passions Foster Cannibalism is an ideal metaphor for corporate greed or capitalist rapacity generally, and films of entrepreneurial cannibalism usually have a clear subtext.

Todd is a modern myth, but is a descendant of the shadow archetype Vogler , p. This Todd is certainly so governed. The title role is played by the appositely named Tod Slaughter, who presents Todd as pure evil: socially respectable, yet greedy for money and lusting after the young heroine, Johanna. The plot is straightforward: Todd has a barber shop near the docks where he lures passers-by in for a shave, kills them and steals their valuables. His partner in crime, Mrs Lovett, has a pie shop and profitably disposes of the bodies.

Johanna is the daughter of a local merchant and Todd offers to go into partnership with him, planning to ruin him and blackmail him into approving marriage with his daughter. This is textbook abjection: the smell of meat from some non-human mammal cooking next door has made the customer in contemporary London realise his own mortality. This version is also replete in alterity and reification. The class nature of nineteenth century England is illustrated by young Tobias who is brought to Todd as an apprentice: Todd gets one guinea for each boy he takes from the parish.

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The Beadle warns Todd that this is the last boy he is getting: presumably he has killed and Mrs Lovett has cooked the previous seven. The boy prepares the victims by applying shaving cream, and is then sent off for a walk with a penny pie from next door, making the innocent lad the chief innocent cannibal. In fact, all the cannibalism is innocent and is carried out by the lower classes, represented by Pearley and Tobias, an apparent metaphor for the exploitation with which the working class was struggling in the s when the film was made.

Todd meets Mrs Lovett Helena Bonham Carter who tells him Lucy was raped by Turpin and committed suicide, leaving their daughter a ward of the wicked judge, who now lusts for the young girl. In the twenty-first century, Todd the entrepreneur is remade as the wronged anti-hero and the forces of the law and government demonstrate the unregulated libidinism that characterised Todd in the earlier film. His plans to trap the judge thwarted, Todd wreaks revenge on all males, females being fortunate not to need barbers, with his cutthroat razors.

The abjection is constant, starting with the opening credits where we see streams of blood, mincemeat, pies going into ovens and more blood flowing into the sewer. There is no polite avoidance of the cannibal question in this later version: Todd and Lovett share a song where they speculate on the gastronomic features of different professions she recommends priests.

Todd puts this discussion in a social context: The history of the world, my love, is those below serving those up above! How gratifying for once to know, that those above will serve those down below! The reification of any adult male that comes into the shop arises not from Todd but from Lovett: he wishes only to kill, to revenge himself on a society that has betrayed and he believes killed all those he held dear. In fact, Lovett is presented as the psychopath in this version.

Yet she is coldly rational, like Hannibal Lecter, does no killing herself, and is in fact a perfect reflection of free trade capitalism, adding value to the raw materials that come her way. He once again kills for revenge, while Lovett dies not for her evil schemes but because she hoped to win his love. Although a ruthless killer, the audience of the Todd is clearly invited to identify and sympathise with the anti-hero, much as we did the previous decade with Hannibal Lecter. The second function is the revelation of events in film that would normally overwhelm consciousness such as natural disasters, war, violence and debauchery.

How much more clearly can we consider the case for cannibalism while seated comfortably in a cinema for two hours and six minutes, than if we had ourselves stumbled from the wreckage of a Uruguayan plane in Alive Marshall ? Film helps us discover things normally unseen, and cannibal films, I believe, help us discover the alterity and reification that haunt our social, cultural and interspecial relations. In this paper, I have tried to turn some of these techniques towards examining how the cannibal film genre breaks down oppositional dualism of human and non-human or inhuman through challenging the transcendent position of humans that is assumed in modern philosophical and cultural discourses.

Derrida considers that the incorporation of the animal corpse is both symbolic and real, whereas it is merely symbolic when the corpse is human , p. One cannot be a full subject of modern society without eating meat Calarco , p. Toggle navigation. New to eBooks. How many copies would you like to buy?

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