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Begotten is a 1989 American experimental dark fantasy horror film written, produced, edited and directed by Edmund Elias Merhige. It stars Brian Salsburg, Donna Dempsy, Stephen Charles Barry, and members of Merhige's theatre company Theatre of Material. The film contains no dialogue, being designed to mimic the style of aged black-and-white films. Incorporating events and themes from various creation myths, Begotten centers on the death of God, and the subsequent birth of Mother Earth and Son of Earth, following their journey of death and rebirth through a barren landscape. Author Scott MacDonald noted that the plot is intentionally left ambiguous to invite multiple interpretations of the film.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byE. Elias Merhige
Produced byE. Elias Merhige
Written byE. Elias Merhige
  • Brian Salzburg
  • Donna Dempsey
  • Stephen Charles Barry
Music byEvan Albam
CinematographyE. Elias Merhige
Edited byNoëlle Penraat
Theatre Of Material
William Markle Associates (Sound)
Distributed byWorld Artists Home Video (All media)
Release date
[Note 1]
Running time
72 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$33,000 (estimated)[3]

Begotten was influenced by the theories and ideas of Antonin Artaud and Friedrich Nietzsche, which in Merhige's opinion had not been developed on film to the fullest extent. Inspiration for the film's visual style came from Georges Franju's documentary short Blood of the Beasts, as well as Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, Stan Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, and the German Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Begotten was originally intended to be a theatre production but was later opted as a film production after Merhige learned that it would be too expensive to produce through the medium of theatre. It was filmed on location in New York and New Jersey, over a period of three and a half years (although in one interview, Merhige stated that filming lasted for five and a half months).

Begotten did not gain distribution until approximately two years after editing was completed. It was briefly screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was seen by film critics Tom Luddy and Peter Scarlet, who brought it to the attention of fellow critic Susan Sontag, who wrote the film's most publicized review that was instrumental to its eventual release. In spite of Sontag's highly publicized review, the film was largely ignored by mainstream critics and is currently banned in Singapore due to its violence. It eventually attained a cult following referred to as a "copy-cult" by authors Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik, given the film's rarity. It has been included in multiple lists belonging to a number of media outlets, and was followed by a short film sequel in 2006, titled Din of Celestial Birds, which deals with the theory of evolution. Begotten has become influential on several avant-garde works, experimental films, and has been cited by several artists as inspiration for some of their works.


Inside a small shack, a robed figure, God Killing Himself, proceeds to disembowel himself with a straight razor. After removing some of His internal organs, God dies and a woman, Mother Earth, emerges from the mutilated remains. Bringing the corpse to arousal, she uses His semen to impregnate herself. Time passes and Mother, now visibly pregnant, stands beside a coffin containing God's corpse. Wandering off into a vast and barren landscape, Mother later gives birth to Son of Earth, a malformed convulsing man. The man is soon abandoned by his mother, who leaves him to his own devices.

After an untold period of time wandering across the barren landscape, the Son of Earth later encounters a group of faceless nomads who seize him by his umbilical cord. Upon being captured, the Son of Earth begins vomiting up organic pieces that the nomads excitedly accept as gifts. The nomads then throw the man into a fire pit where he burns to death. Son of Earth is then resurrected by Mother Earth, who comforts her newly reborn offspring before they both continue across the barren landscape. The nomads soon return and proceed to attack the Son of Earth as Mother Earth stands in a trance-like state. The nomads soon turn their attention to her, knocking her to the ground before raping, then murdering her, as her son watches helplessly nearby.

Once the nomads have left, a group of robed figures arrives to carry away Mother Earth's mutilated remains, which are disemboweled. Afterwards, the group then returns to murder and disembowel her son, burying the pieces of both mother and son into the crust of the earth. As time passes, the burial site soon becomes lush with flowers as grainy photographs of God Killing Himself are shown. In the final scene, "Mother Earth" and "Son of Earth" are seen again in a flashback, this time wandering through a forest.[4]


  • Brian Salzburg as God Killing Himself:
A mysterious, robed entity who disembowels himself with a straight razor. He is also the father of Mother Earth and Son of Earth, the latter of which was born through artificial insemination.
  • Donna Dempsey as Mother Earth:
A female entity based on the earth deity of the same name. She is the mother of Son of Earth, whom she conceived via artificial insemination.
  • Stephen Charles Barry as Son of Earth (Flesh on Bone):
The deformed, convulsing son of Mother Earth and God Killing Himself. Barry would later reprise his role in the film's sequel, Din of Celestial Birds, which was also written and directed by Merhige.[5]

Members of Merhige's theatre company Theatre of Material – which included Adolpho Vargas, Arthur Streeter, Daniel Harkins, Erik Slavin, James Gandia, Michael Phillips, and Terry Andersen – provided additional credits for other characters in the film such as the Nomads and Robed Figures.[4]


Critics have identified several major themes in Begotten. In interviews, Merhige himself has acknowledged that he intentionally incorporated these themes into the film, while also inviting viewers to form their own interpretations of the film.[6]

Death and rebirthEdit

Language Bearers, Photographers, Diary makers
You with your memory are dead, frozen
Lost in a present that never stops passing
Here lives the incantation of matter
A language forever.
Like a flame burning away the darkness
Life is flesh on bone convulsing above the ground.

— The opening intertitle for the film, suggesting the film's themes of life and death.

Several critics have noted that Begotten contains an underlying theme of death and rebirth,[7][8] recurring throughout most of the director's works.[9] In an interview with Marty Mapes of Movie, Merhige stated, "I've always believed in the continuity of consciousness. I don't think the body dying means it's over. It just means that there's a transformation taking place. So what we call physical death is not something that I think is some sorrowful loss. I just think that the entire universe is in a constant state of change and in its movement we’re kind of moving with it."[8]

Reviewing the film, noted that the film's recurring theme of death and rebirth might have been inspired by a near-death experience Merhige had suffered during his youth at age nineteen.[8] Author and independent filmmaker John Kenneth Muir pointed out the film's ideas of suffering, death, and rebirth: "Watching this pageant of suffering, our minds jump to the idea of man assiduously, painfully re-shaping the hard soil of Earth to gain a foothold and grow crops; to bring life from unforgiving terra firma. Is this how the Earth "feels" to be under our yoke? To be shaped to our purposes?" Muir also pointed out that the initial scenes of brutality, and suffering, were followed by "cathartic" scenes of cleansing, and renewal of the Earth exemplified by the passing of the seasons.[10] Author William E.B. Verrone also noted this depiction of violence, birth, and death: "if indeed we are to mourn the death and destruction of God/Mother/Son, then we can because of the immense mistreatment and suffering. And when flowers wilt and then bloom, we are offered salvation."[11]

Religion, mythology, and the occultEdit

The film incorporates several mythological/religious themes including the character of Mother Earth, which is loosely based on the deity of the same name and Mary, mother of Jesus.

Many critics have pointed out the film's incorporation of various religious and mythological themes and events from Christianity, Celtic mythology, and Slavic mythology including Creation, Mother Earth, and various other religious themes, on which the events that take place in the film are loosely based.[12][13] Merhige himself has acknowledged that the film was deliberately arranged to appear as part of a mythology.[14] Author William E.B. Verrone observes, "Begotten offers a (non) story—about primitive myths, divine birth, and punishment, a cryptic passion play about Earth’s birth and torture, told quite literally—but meant to evoke a more metaphoric, symbolic realm of experience and understanding.”[15] Author Scott MacDonald pointed out that the film's highly allegorical plot, "suggest[s] a historical overview of attitudes popular in North America and Europe during the past few centuries." MacDonald also interpreted the film's plot as The death of God, and the birth and rape of Nature, or God-as-Nature.[16] In their book Cult Cinema: An Introduction, authors Ernest Mathijs and Jamie Sexton noted that the film "makes perhaps the most serious attempt to visualize elements of Dionysian orgiastic cultism in combination with Gnostic and pagan myths".[17]

The film's opening sequence shares many similarities with various creation myths, specifically ones where life is generated from the corpse or dismemberment of an originator deity.[18][19] Author Herbert S. Lindenberger felt that Merhige was "redoing old fertility myths that Sir James Frazer pulled together to shock late Victorians about the savagery of their ancestors." Lindenberger also noted the film's inclusion of themes taken from Christianity such as the "buried god", his resurrection, and the inclusion of god's mother.[20] In his article 10 Horror Movies Too Intense Even for Halloween, ScreenRant's Jason Wojnar stated that the film's unconventional storyline was, "an abstract interpretation of the death and rebirth of God, Earth, and Man".[21]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times categorized the film as being a "re-envision[ing] of primitive myths in visceral, monstrously immediate terms."[12] Film critic Richard Corliss from Time pointed out that the film contained multiple references to Druidism.[22] Corliss also noted the film's mixture of druidism with several biblical stories such as the Creation (Genesis), the Nativity, and Christ's torture/death.[11]


Several critics have pointed out possible influences for the film's visual style.[7] Merhige himself has cited the theories and ideas of Antonin Artaud and Friedrich Nietzsche, which in his opinion had not been developed on film to the fullest extent,[23] as well as the works of Bosch, Goya, Munk, Eisenstein, and Buñuel.[12] In a 1993 interview with author Scott MacDonald, Merhige also listed Georges Franju's documentary short Blood of the Beasts as an inspiration for the visual style of the film, as well as Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, Stan Brakhage's The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes, and the German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.[24] Film critic Eric D. Snider has pointed out that David Lynch's Eraserhead might also have influenced the film's visual style.[25]


Development and pre-productionEdit

"The writing for Begotten was all Vision material, or whatever you want to call it, and I used those parts that scared me, or that I just couldn't understand―the parts that stuck with me for days and forced me to wonder where within me did this come from? A tableau of the unknown was important to me. Then it was a matter of arranging this material as a myth. That was important, too. It began as a personal myth and ended as a collective myth, a myth of everyone involved in making the film."[14]

Writer/director E. Elias Merhige on the development of the film's script

Begotten was written, produced, and directed by Merhige,[12] with development for the film beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s,[23] although some sources list the date as 1984.[26][27] Merhige had studied New York State University, and soon developed an interest in the theatre after attending several performances while in Manhattan. Merhige was particularly fascinated by a Japanese dance troupe called Sankai Juku which, the director later learned, consisted of a core group that did everything together and knew each other thoroughly on both a professional and personal level. Wanting to achieve something similar, Merhige founded Theatre of Material, a small theatre production company based in New York City.[28] After working on several different experimental theatre productions, Merhige began developing his next project. The film was originally intended to be a theatre production, and Mehige later recalled: "I originally thought of it as a dance theatre with live music piece that we would do at Lincoln Center." It was only after discovering that it would cost a quarter of a million dollars to produce[23] that the decision was made to adapt the script for a motion picture instead of a theatre production.[23] Also, as members of the company started moving on to other projects, Merhige had wanted to keep a permanent record of the company's work.[14]

Merhige, who was nineteen at the time,[7] wrote the film's script in six months.[23] Before working on Begotten, he had previously made several short films such as Implosion (1983), Spring Rain (1984), and A Taste of Youth (1985). These were well-received, and gave the director the experience and insight he needed while working on Begotten.[29][30] For the development of the film's script, Merhige and members of Theatre of Material wanted the film to be silent, instead focusing on what the director called “emotions on the fringes” and emotions which they felt that most directors and artists would avoid. In preparation for writing the film's script, Merhige and members from Theatre of Material would perform breathing exercises as a group, then examine the experience afterwards. As Merhige explained, "We would breathe to the point of hysteria and create these moments of panic. Afterwards, we would analyze what the experience was all about. It was an intimate science." The group would then write down ideas and scenes based on their experiences, with Merhige incorporating segments that scared him, as well as others that he was not able to understand but had stuck with him. The initial draft for the film's screenplay was then brought to the members of the group, who also worked as both cast and crew for the film, where they would rehearse excerpts from the script, followed by a discussion about what they had just read prior to breaking it down into its physical elements. A period of four-and-a-half months was dedicated to rehearsing the film, as Merhige wanted the cast "in tune with one another" before shooting.[14]


Principal photography took place in the mid-to-late 1980s,[23] over a period of three-and-a-half months[Note 2] in several different locations. Merhige filled multiple roles in the film's production, including work on cinematography, and special effects, the latter using a 16mm Arriflex camera on black and white reversal film.[23] Merhige had previously worked on several short film subjects before developing Begotten. The opening sequence depicting the robed figure (listed in the credits as "God Killing Himself") disemboweling himself and Mother Earth emerging from his remains was shot first. The sequence was then edited together and shown to the cast and crew, whose reactions to the footage was very enthusiastic, with Merhige stating: "I think it proved to everyone that this was an important film, that there really was nothing else like it, and we were actually going to make it happen." Most of the film's cast and crew were paid little to nothing, with their forms of payment being free room and board, and Merhige himself paying for all of their expenses.[31] In his book Film Out of Bounds: Essays and Interviews on Non-Mainstream Cinema Worldwide, author Matthew Edwards cited the film as an example of low-budget films outside of Hollywood that were both "unique and distinct despite minuscule budgets, and display[ed] more flair, invention, style, and substance than your average Hollywood popcorn flick."[32]

A majority of the film was shot at a construction site on the border between New York City and New Jersey, where Merhige had been given permission to shoot for a period of twenty days when construction crews were not working. Members of the construction site would occasionally lend the film crew a hand by constructing landscapes when certain shots of mountains were needed during a scene. Scenes involving time-lapses of sunrises and sunsets were shot by the director, who spent a couple of days alone in the mountains near Santa Fe or Albuquerque.[23] Funding for the film came from Merhige's grandfather, who had set Merhige up with a trust fund for medical school.[Note 3] Additional costs for the film were paid by Merhige from income he received while working multiple jobs as a special effects artist.[31][23] Merhige described working on the film as being powerful and one that was both transformative, and ritualistic that changed the lives of all those involved with the project.[23]

Post productionEdit

The film's distinct visual style was accomplished through the use of an optical printer, which took a total of eight to ten hours for each minute of film.

Begotten had been envisioned by Merhige as a silent film depicting "a time that predated spoken language and communication being made on a sensory level."[22][34] Merhige had previously worked as a special effects designer for various different companies, including a brief job where he performed rotoscoping for a Disney television show, and knew how to create the visual effects needed for the film.[23][31] In order to create the desired look and feel for the film, Merhige would experiment with the film reel during filming to give it an old, withered look. This included running the unshot negative through sandpaper in order to scratch it up before shooting. Still unsatisfied with the overall effect, Merhige decided to use an optical printer but was unable to find one within the film's budget.[31][35] The optical printer was constructed over a period of eight months[23][31][35] by Merhige himself,[36] who would use old spare parts acquired from camera stores and special effects houses that he had worked on and off at.[23][31][35] Merhige would later use this technique of what he called "rephotography" in his following film Shadow of the Vampire.[36] The editing process proved to be the most time consuming, as each minute of footage generated by the optical printer took on average between eight and ten hours to complete.[35] This process also involved analyzing and testing each resulting shot before sending the tests off to the lab. If a particular shot appeared to be off, it was changed and often involved reshooting the footage that had been completed beforehand.[31] Most of the film was developed in a small developing studio located on 48th Street called Kin-O-Lux Labs, run by German immigrant Fred Schreck (no relation to famed German actor Max Schreck) who had immigrated from Germany after the end of World War II. Merhige had met the elderly Schreck while he was developing test footage for the film. Merhige had been turned down by various studios where he tried to have the footage developed before going to Kin-O-Lux. Schreck immediately took a liking to the director and allowed Merhige to use the lab to develop the footage, while also teaching him how to hand-develop the footage.[7] Schreck is credited under "special thanks" in the film's credits.[4] At one point during the editing process, Merhige enlisted his father's input on certain scenes. As later recalled during an interview with MovieMaker Magazine: "I would bring my father, who loves John Ford westerns, into the editing room to see this silent, black and white, extremely bizarre film, and I would ask him whether the scene made sense and if it worked. And he said: 'None of it makes sense to me but if I had a choice of what made better sense within the edit I would use this edit over that edit.' He was very open-minded."[13]

The sound mix used in the film was composed and arranged by Evan Albam. Merhige hired Albam after Tim McCann, a close friend of Merhige and assistant director for the film, recommended him for constructing the film's music and sound effects. Albam had a job painting houses at the time, composing music in his spare time before being hired to compose the soundtrack for the film. Merhige would work closely with Albam on developing the film's music and sound effects in order to find the right balance of visual and audio cues for the film, a process that took a year to complete.[23]



Begotten was first screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival before its official premiere at the New York City Film Forum

Begotten did not gain distribution until approximately two years after editing for the film had been completed. During this time, Merhige would show it to possible distributors but most refused to release the film[23] as it did not fit into a specific genre, making it difficult to bring the film to market. Merhige then took it to a number of museums in hopes of eventually finding a distributor. In the end, only two showed any interest, but both were turned down by Merhige who felt that they would not have been the right choice.[37] As a result, Merhige became very protective of the film, only showing it to people he felt he could trust. It was briefly screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was seen by film critics Tom Luddy and Peter Scarlet. Both were fascinated by the film's distinct visual style and brought it to the attention of fellow critic Susan Sontag.[38] Sontag, who set up a private screening at her home for some of her closest friends. Her praise of the film became one of the Begotten's most publicized reviews and instrumental for its eventual release. Sontag later brought the film to the Berlin Film Festival where it was viewed by director Werner Herzog. Merhige later recalled that Herzog was "very supportive of the film".[23]

Theatrical releaseEdit

Begotten was shown for the first time at the Montreal World Film Festival on October 26, 1989.[39][40] The film would later have screenings at the San Francisco International Film Festival,[2] and the Berlin Film Festival in the early to mid 1990s.[23] Its first official premiere took place at the New York City's Film Forum in the fall of 1990.[41][42] It was exhibited several years later at the Stadtkino Theater in Vienna in 1992, as a part of a retrospective of American independent cinema titled "Unknown Territories".[1]

On October 20, 2014, it was screened at Brooklyn's Spectacle Theater, as a part of its fourth annual "Spectober" film event.[43][44] The film was later screened at the third annual horror film festival SpectreFest on October 28, 2015 along with its spiritual sequel Din of Celestial Birds followed by an onstage discussion with Merhige.[45][46] The film was shown at the Music Box Theatre in Midtown Manhattan on September 25, 2016, during its 25th Anniversary celebration, where it was screened from Merhige's personal 16mm print. It was viewed as a double-feature alongside the director's other film Shadow of the Vampire, and was followed by a Q&A with Merhige.[47] The film was later screened at the Short Film Festival in London on January 8, 2017, where it was shown again in its original 16mm format, accompanied by a live music score from the film.[48] It was screened on October 17, 2019 at the Rice Media Center, as part of a celebration of "Low-Fi" Analog film series.[49]

Home mediaEdit

Begotten had received very limited home media distribution after its theatrical release,[17] with current copies of the film being out of print and difficult to acquire.[22] Initially, Merhige did not intend for the film to be released on home video, stating in an interview with Scott MacDonald that he had previously been repulsed by home video as a medium. Merhige eventually changed his mind and felt that the original soundtrack mix, with which he had not been completely satisfied, could be enhanced through the medium.[24] The film was briefly released on VHS[50][23] by World Artists Home Video on March 10, 1995.[51][52] It was later given a very limited DVD release by World Artists on February 20, 2001 and included a souvenir booklet, the original theatrical trailer, rare and never-before-seen movie stills, and production photos.[53][54] This edition of the film has long been out of print,[55][56] which has led to the circulation and distribution of illegal, bootlegged and pirated digital copies.[57][17]

On July 29, 2016, Merhige announced via Instagram that the film would be released for the first time on Blu-ray in the Fall of that year.[58] However, the distribution deal fell through and a second announcement,[38][47] during its 25th-anniversary screening alongside Shadow of the Vampire at Music Box Theatre in Midtown Manhattan,[47] did not provide a release date either.


Critical receptionEdit

Susan Sontag was one of the main advocates for Begotten and helped ensure the film's release.

Begotten has received little to no attention from film critics, with many mainstream reviewers ignoring the film entirely.[22] Merhige was initially afraid that audiences would misunderstand parts, or the entire film altogether, "When I finished the film, I felt sure it would be misunderstood and consigned to the underground again. I see it as a very serious, very beautiful work of art, but when it was first finished, I was always thinking, 'What if everybody just laughs? What if they don't see anything in it?' There is always that possibility."[37] Reactions to the film upon its release were extremely polarized, but Merhige has stated that he remains grateful for starting his career with the film.[59] The limited reviews on the film have been mixed to positive, with some critics calling it a masterpiece, praising the film's unique visual style, and resonating themes;[5][59] others have criticized these same merits along with its brutal violence and running time.[60]

Susan Sontag—one of the leading advocates for the film—praised it, referring to it as "a metaphysical splatter film" and "one of the 10 most important films of modern times".[61] Marc Savlov from the Austin Chronicle called the film "Experimental, haunting, dreamlike, and intentionally confounding", also writing, "Merhige's stylized nightmare/dreamscape is a calculatedly misbegotten travelogue through Hell, accompanied by a jittery, muffled soundtrack of caterwauling crickets, doomed souls and worse."[19] Adrian Halen from Horror gave the film a positive review, stating, "Begotten is hard to consume on many levels. Though in that consumption is also a smattering of brilliance".[62]Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader called it "a remarkable if not extremely upsetting and gory black-and-white experimental feature", further stating: "If you're squeamish you should avoid this like the plague; others may find it hard to shake off the artistry and originality of this visionary effort. And if you're looking to be freaked out you shouldn't pass it up."[26][27] David Sterritt from Christian Science Monitor offered the film similar praise, stating that the film 'strongly recalls the work of Samuel Beckett's stark novel How It Is'. Sterritt also noted the film's claustrophobic feelings and dark narrative, writing, "Shot in grainy black-and-white on 16mm film, and then put through a multiple solarization process to bring out astonishing new relationships between shades of black, white, and grey, Begotten is entrancing, obsessive, disturbing, and probably indelible."[63] Angelo from gave the film a positive review; he stated in his review, "In a way, it inspires so much emotion on such a deep and raw level, it's a moving and poignant film." However, the message it makes is not pretty... But if you're like me, and wondering if you've been desensitized after years of horror flicks, it'll show you whether you can still feel or not".[64] Dennis Schwartz from Ozus' World Movie Reviews awarded the film a grade B+, praising the film's visual aesthetic, and comparing the film's graphic imagery to paintings by Francis Bacon.[65]Mexican film critic Marco González Ambriz called the film "magnificent" and a must-see "for anyone interested in the cinematic avant-garde", although he also noted that many viewers would likely find the film unbearable.[66]

The film was not without its detractors. Author and independent filmmaker John Kenneth Muir awarded the film a mixed rating of two and a half out of a possible four stars, calling it "an experimental, one-of-a-kind cinematic experience". In his review, Muir praised the film's originality and powerful imagery, while criticizing the running time as being too long.[60][10]Janet Maslin from the New York Times criticized the film for being too grotesque, writing "Mr. Merhige's concentration, while impressive in its way, seems almost entirely self-contained, with little effort to engage an audience on even the level of myth."[67] Rob Gonsalves from panned the film, awarding it one out of five stars. In the review, Gonsalves, who referred to Merhige as "[a] bullshit artist (as opposed to a true artist)", criticized the film's running time as being overlong and its visual style as being empty and repetitive while also negatively comparing it to David Lynch's Eraserhead. Concluding his review, Gonsalves wrote, "If you enjoy projecting meaning onto stylish nothingness, Begotten is your movie. The rest of us may consider it the sort of art movie that gives art movies a bad name."[68]


Begotten has gradually developed a cult following over the years[3] and is considered by some to be the director's masterpiece.[69][59][70] In their analytical book on cult cinema, authors Ernest Mathijs and Xavier Mendik cited the reasons for the film's cult status were due to its severely limited availability, with much of its exposure being through the distribution of bootleg copies which they called a "copy-cult".[71] The film is currently banned in Singapore due to its graphic and disturbing content.[19]

Begotten has been included in multiple lists at various media outlets. In 2012, Complex included the film on its list of 50 Most Disturbing Movies.[72] Sarah Gibson from Highsnobiety listed it in her 10 of the Most Damaged and Disturbing Movies Ever Made.[73] It was placed at #10 on AskMen's 10 Hard-To-Stomach Horror Movies, stating that the film was "so miserable that it likely wouldn't have seen the light of day were it not for Susan Sontag".[74] Taste of listed it at #13 in its 20 Most Disturbing Movies of All Time, summarizing, "Begotten possesses a haunting, atmospherically visceral quality that has yet to be surpassed... Combine Merhige's avant-garde film style with sequences of torture and unsettling imagery, and you get one of the most shocking experimental pictures of all time."[75] It was placed at #4 on Nylon's "8 Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made".[76] Entertainment Weekly included the film in its "13 of the Most Disturbing — and Critically Acclaimed — Movies to Ever Hit Theaters", describing it as "kind of like if Alejandro Jodorowsky told the story of creation filtered through the lens of Eraserhead."[77] In his book Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy, author Jason V. Brock listed the film at #7, and as one of his favorite Radio, Film, and/or Television Productions.[78]

The film's critical success also proved to be a starting point for Merhige's filmmaking career,[23] who would go on to make the much praised Shadow of the Vampire[79] and Suspect Zero, although the latter was released to negative reviews.[80] Actor Nicolas Cage, the producer of Shadow of the Vampire, had pushed for the director's hiring after viewing a copy of Begotten.[23][81][82][83]

Merhige was later hired by singer Marilyn Manson to direct music videos for his songs "Antichrist Superstar" and "Cryptorchid", the latter utilizing imagery that was heavily incorporated from Begotten.[84][85] Manson was a huge admirer of Begotten,[7] which he called "one of the strangest and scariest films I've seen", and had personally contacted Merhige to ask him if he would be willing to direct the music video for his song "Cryptorchid".[86] The latter video premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1997 where it won a Golden Gate Certificate of Merit Award.[87][7][88] It was subsequently barred from release by Interscope Records, whom Manson claimed were "appalled by it",[86] due to its fascist iconography, namely the Nuremberg rallies, along with U.S. military footage and images of a Ku Klux Klan lynching. "Cryptorchid" was also beset with troubles and remained unreleased until it was leaked on YouTube in 2010.[88][84] Merhige has since become a prominent member of the theatre, directing numerous stage plays which include A Dream Play, an adaption of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Waiting for Godot.[5]

Din of Celestial BirdsEdit

Begotten is considered by writer/director Merhige to be the first of an unofficial trilogy. The second film in the series Din of Celestial Birds was released in 2006.

Begotten is considered by Merhige as the start of an unofficial trilogy. The second film in the trilogy, a 14-minute short titled Din of Celestial Birds,[57] was shot in a similar visual fashion as Begotten.[5] As with the film's predecessor, Merhige fulfilled multiple roles during its production, functioning as the writer, director, and producer. Funding for Din of Celestial Birds came through the cooperation of the Q6 production group, a collective of philosophers and artists.[89][90] According to Merhige, inspiration for Din of Celestial Birds came from silent films, such as Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet (1930), Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), and the works of the Lumiere brothers. As he stated in an interview with Turner Classic Movies, "[...] I stripped my idea down to its simplest form and peeled my crew back to people I trust—my friends, a computational visual neuroscientist, a visual philosopher/painter, a multi-media performance artist, a gifted musician-composer, and a sculptor/painter. I then took off to search for creation in its simplest and purest form."[5]

Focusing on the theory of evolution instead of religion and mythology,[91] the film opens with the text that reads: "hello and welcome ... do not be afraid ... be comforted ... remember ... our origin...", followed by images depicting The Big Bang. Then, after a hyper-accelerated trip through the evolution of life and the Earth, it culminates in the birth of an embryonic pseudo-humanoid called the Son of Light (Stephen Charles Barry) that reaches to some unknown source.[92]

Din of Celestial Birds premiered on Turner Classic Movies on September 15, 2006.[5] It was later screened alongside its predecessor at the SpectreFest Film Festival in 2015.[45]


Since its release, Begotten has become a minor influence on several avant-garde and experimental films, and has been cited by several artists as inspiration for some of their works.[21]

Michael Pope's acclaimed 2001 experimental film Neovoxer has been compared to Begotten, featuring a similar visual style and "impressionistic mythology".[69] The flashback sequences in Panos Cosmatos's 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow were said to be openly inspired by Begotten.[93] Kyle Turner from compared the 2015 experimental film Ville Marie as being very similar to Merhige's film in terms of cinematic style, and use of reverse-exposure.[94]

Certain scenes in Can Evrenol's 2015 surrealist horror film Baskin were compared to Begotten.[95] In an interview with Muzzeland Press, visual artist and musician Rob Stanley cited the film's dark imagery as one of the influences for his artwork.[96] James Quinn's 2017 experimental horror film Flesh of the Void was noted by several critics as being similar to Merhige's film in style and narrative.[97][98] However, Quinn himself stated, in an interview with Nightmare on Film Street, that he felt his film did not fall into the same category.[99] Certain scenes from Blake Williams' 2018 avant-garde science fiction film Prototype were compared to Begotten by Glenn Kenny of The New York Times.[100] Jimmy Joe Roche's 2018 experimental short film, Skin of Man, was also said to have been influenced by Begotten.[101]

The film's reach has also extended into the music world. American music artist Zola Jesus listed the film as a major inspiration for her 2017 music album Okovi, writing: "for months on end I had E. Elias Merhige’s 1990 film Begotten on loop. I’d sit in my dark room being lit by nothing but the screen’s caustic frames. It was my closest friend during my darkest moments and a scream I couldn’t let out on my own. I’ve never felt so directly inspired by a piece of art before."[102] For their experimental musical composition Frankenstein Bemshi! at the 2018 Rochester Fringe Festival, performers Dave Esposito and G. E. Schwartz mixed portions of Begotten with the 1910 film Frankenstein, accompanied by live guitar music, electronic soundscapes, spoken narration, and with poetry added as text to the movie's image.[103] Lead singer Dimitri Giannopoulos, from the American rock band Horse Jumper Of Love, revealed that the single "Airport", from their 2019 album So Divine, was partially inspired by Begotten.[104]

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Various media outlets have mistakenly reported that the film's screening at the San Francisco Film Festival in 1990 was its first release.[1][2]
  2. ^ In an interview with Scott MacDonald, Merhige alternately stated that filming spanned over a period of five-and-a-half months.[14]
  3. ^ A total of approximately $20,000.[33][31]


  1. ^ a b MacDonald 1998, p. 284.
  2. ^ a b SFFSa 2018.
  3. ^ a b Dutka 2004.
  4. ^ a b c Merhige 1991.
  5. ^ a b c d e f TCM 2006.
  6. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 289.
  7. ^ a b c d e f FilmmakerMagazine 2000.
  8. ^ a b c Mapes 2004.
  9. ^ SouthernEyes 2011a.
  10. ^ a b Muir 2010.
  11. ^ a b Verrone 2011, p. 157.
  12. ^ a b c d Maslin 1991a.
  13. ^ a b MovieMakerMagazine 2007.
  14. ^ a b c d e MacDonald 1998, p. 286.
  15. ^ Verrone 2011, p. 154.
  16. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 290.
  17. ^ a b c Mathijs & Sexton 2012, p. 140.
  18. ^ Leonard & McClure 2004, pp. 32–33.
  19. ^ a b c Savlov 2009.
  20. ^ Aldama & Lindenberger 2016, p. 165.
  21. ^ a b Wojnar 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d Mathijs & Mendik 2011, p. 20.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Essman 2010.
  24. ^ a b MacDonald 1998, p. 292.
  25. ^ Snyder 2011.
  26. ^ a b Rosenbaum 1995a.
  27. ^ a b Rosenbaum 1995b.
  28. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 285.
  29. ^ Seibold 2016.
  30. ^ Allon, Cullen & Patterson 2002, p. 374.
  31. ^ a b c d e f g h MacDonald 1998, p. 287.
  32. ^ Edwards 2018, p. 20.
  33. ^ LAWeekly 1994, p. 43.
  34. ^ Mathijs & Sexton 2012, p. 163.
  35. ^ a b c d Hoberman 2003, p. 91.
  36. ^ a b Kaufman 2001.
  37. ^ a b MacDonald 1998, p. 291.
  38. ^ a b Nicolay 2016.
  39. ^ Griffin 1989a, p. 64.
  40. ^ Griffin 1989b, p. 16.
  41. ^ Hoberman 2003, p. 90.
  42. ^ Prince 2002, p. 437.
  43. ^ SpectacleTheater 2014.
  44. ^ Disser 2014.
  45. ^ a b Busch 2015.
  46. ^ Moore 2015.
  47. ^ a b c DO312 2016.
  48. ^ MothClub 2017.
  49. ^ Rouner 2019.
  50. ^ TLAVideo 2003, p. 50.
  51. ^ Hall 1995.
  52. ^ Hartl 1995, p. 80.
  53. ^ Allmovie 2001a.
  54. ^ Henkel 2000.
  55. ^ Willmore 2014.
  56. ^ FilmThreat 2009.
  57. ^ a b Mathijs & Mendik 2011, p. 21.
  58. ^ Merhige 2016.
  59. ^ a b c Chaw 2015.
  60. ^ a b Muir 2011, pp. 140-142.
  61. ^ Allmovie 2001b.
  62. ^ Halen 2018.
  63. ^ Sterritt 1990, p. 11.
  64. ^ Angelo 2010.
  65. ^ Schwartz 2016.
  66. ^ Ambriz 2004.
  67. ^ Maslin 1991b.
  68. ^ Gonsalves 2006.
  69. ^ a b JamesRiverFilmFestival 2015.
  70. ^ Mathijs & Mendik 2011, pp. 20-21.
  71. ^ Mathijs & Sexton 2012, pp. 34-35.
  72. ^ ComplexMagazine 2018.
  73. ^ Gibson 2016.
  74. ^ Hurcomb 2015.
  75. ^ Blicq 2015.
  76. ^ Manders 2017.
  77. ^ Heigl 2017.
  78. ^ Brock 2014, p. 300.
  79. ^ FandangoMedia1a 2000.
  80. ^ FandangoMedia1b 2004.
  81. ^ Mottram 2014.
  82. ^ Massaccesi 2015, p. 113.
  83. ^ Blackwelder 2000.
  84. ^ a b Preira 2011.
  85. ^ Bennett 2019.
  86. ^ a b Celebritarian 2005, p. 5.
  87. ^ SFFSb 2017.
  88. ^ a b Barkan 2015.
  89. ^ FilmAffinity 2006.
  90. ^ ThirdEye 2016.
  91. ^ Traces d'Images 2017, p. 194.
  92. ^ SouthernEyes 2011b.
  93. ^ Day 2012.
  94. ^ Turner 2015.
  95. ^ FilmStage 2016.
  96. ^ Raab 2016.
  97. ^ Millican 2017.
  98. ^ Romero 2018.
  99. ^ Derington 2017.
  100. ^ Kenny 2018.
  101. ^ CEFilmFestival 2019.
  102. ^ Jesus 2016.
  103. ^ Lubitow 2018.
  104. ^ BWWNewsDesk 2019.


Further readingEdit

External linksEdit


Din of Celestial BirdsEdit