Head to Head – The Human Centipede

Tom Six‘s controversial picture The Human Centipede can be read much like its horrifying titular creation. Is it a damning social experiment? A monstrous failure? A middle finger to human decency? All three? In this week’s instalment of Head to Head, Josh Nelson of Philmology and Quickflix critic Simon Miraudo debate the merits of this divisive film. But which one is full of ****? Read on and share your thoughts!

If the prospect of watching three humans bound together via a single gastrological tract seems like your idea of a gore-filled sadistic trip then sadly you’re going to be disappointed. Despite the grotesquery of the premise, The Human Centipede largely shies away from any explicit depiction of bodily harm, particularly when it comes to the actual medical procedure. And from that point onwards the film’s lack of direction becomes increasingly apparent. While eschewing the ‘pornographic violence’ common to much of contemporary horror cinema, The Human Centipede is equally devoid of any political insight. In fact, director Tom Six seems content to simply place his post-operative being in a variety of pseudo-degrading scenarios but none that reveal any substantial thought or underlying social commentary.

Perhaps the strongest indictment of The Human Centipede though is that the film’s central conceit would’ve provided a veritable wellspring of sub-textual possibilities. The appearance of Six’s triple-bodied form recalls imagery of the stacked prisoners at Abu Ghraib, while the coprophilic, cross-cultural and gendered implications of the centipede lend themselves to various critical explorations (political imprisonment, torture, consumerism, globalisation etc.). Ultimately though, The Human Centipede is utterly disinterested is any deeper engagement with its tri-part creation beyond an adolescent fascination with eating shit. If that is the extent of Six’s cinematic imagination I won’t be rushing out to see the film’s sequel.

Criticising The Human Centipede for lacking in political subtext is a bit like criticising The Social Network for lacking a dissection of MySpace, or criticising a painting for lacking some audio accompaniment. That’s not to say that these aren’t valid criticisms (Josh’s argument is packed full of them). THC is definitely lacking in political subtext, despite there being plenty of opportunities for director Six to take advantage. Rather, I believe the film achieves something different – something perhaps more profound than a mere horror film embedded with political satire (which, let’s face it, most are).

The Human Centipede is less a film and more an experiment; a feat of endurance for viewers to subject themselves to. It’s not titillating; it’s not scary; it is disgusting. And we know that going in – it’s called The Human Centipede for goodness sake. So why do we watch it? Allow me to crib liberally from my review: “Six is giving us what we want, reminding us all the while that getting exactly what we want is usually the last thing we should ever really have. Basically, The Human Centipede is a better, more effective satire … than Michael Haneke’s Funny Games.” Now, THC is not the world’s greatest/smartest satire, but it makes us question what we want out of film, and what we want out of art. Josh and I have gotten very different things from The Human Centipede, but surely the fact that it inspires a debate such as this is evidence that it’s a success. It’s a conversation starter, that’s for sure.

Discuss: Where do you stand?

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