Opening scene showing God portrayed by a bandaged being who later disembowels himself.
|Directed by||E. Elias Merhige|
|Produced by||E. Elias Merhige|
|Written by||E. Elias Merhige|
Stephen Charles Barry
|Music by||Evan Albam Diamanda Galas|
|Cinematography||E. Elias Merhige|
|Release date(s)||US April 30, 1990 (San Francisco International Film Festival)|
|Running time||78 min.|
The film deals with the story of Genesis, reimagining it. Merhige revealed during Q&A sessions that its primary inspiration was a near death experience he had when he was 19, after a car crash. Merhige also stated that he would like this film to be the first of a trilogy. He was experiencing difficulties getting proper funding, and at the time it was unknown if/when the two other films would be made. The second film of the unofficial trilogy, a 14-minute film entitled Din of Celestial Birds, deals with evolution. It premiered in 2006 on Turner Classic Movies, and was shot in similar visual fashion.
The story opens with a robed, profusely bleeding "God" disemboweling himself, with the act ultimately ending in his death. A woman, Mother Earth, emerges from his remains, arouses the body, and impregnates herself with his semen. Becoming pregnant, she wanders off into a vast and barren landscape. The pregnancy manifests in a fully grown convulsing man whom she leaves to his own devices. The "Son of Earth" meets a group of faceless nomads who seize him with what is either a very long umbilical cord or a rope. The Son of Earth vomits organic pieces, and the nomads excitedly accept these as gifts. The nomads finally bring the man to a fire and burn him. "Mother Earth" encounters the resurrected man and comforts him. She seizes the man with a similar umbilical cord. The nomads appear and proceed to rape her. Son of Earth is left to mourn over the lifeless body. A group of characters appears, carry her off and dismember her, later returning for Son of Earth. After he, too, is dismembered, the group buries the remains, planting the parts into the crust of the earth. The burial site becomes lush with flowers.
- Brian Salzberg – God Killing Himself
- Donna Dempsey – Mother Earth
- Stephen Charles Barry – Son of Earth-Flesh on Bone
Begotten features no dialogue, but uses harsh and uncompromising images of human pain and suffering to tell its tale. It also has little music, and is instead accompanied by the sounds of crickets, and occasionally other sound effects such as grunting and thrashing. It was shot on black and white reversal film, and then every frame was rephotographed for the high-contrast look that it presents. The look is described in the trailer as "a Rorschach test for the eye". Merhige said that for each minute of original film, it took up to 10 hours to rephotograph it for the look desired.
While the film is not easily approached —lacking both dialogue and discernible cultural symbols— it does contain references to various religious and pagan myths. Christian elements are present in the impregnation of Mother Earth by a God, akin to the impregnation of Mary by The Holy Spirit. A similar story is partly present in ancient Egyptian mythology, where Isis impregnates herself with the penis of the killed god Osiris and gives birth to Horus.
The film's reception was fairly positive. It holds an approval rating of 67% at Rotten Tomatoes.Phil Hall of Wired says: "Few motion pictures have the power to jolt an audience with the fury, imagination, and artistic violence of Begotten."Susan Sontag called it "one of the 10 most important films of modern times." Makes "Eraserhead seem like Ernest Saves Christmas" – Time Magazine.