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Begotten (film)

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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
Running time
72 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$33,000 (estimated)[1]

Begotten is a 1990 American experimental dark fantasy horror film written, produced, edited and directed by E. Elias Merhige. It stars Brian Salsburg, Donna Dempsy, Stephen Charles Barry, and members of Merhige's theatre company Theatre of Material. 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. The film 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. Begotten 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).

The film contains no dialogue, being designed to mimic the style of aged black-and-white films, and consists of graphic sequences depicting death, birth, and rebirth. Author Scott MacDonald noted that the film's plot is intentionally left ambiguous that not only contributed to the film's violence but also to invite multiple interpretations of the film.

Begotten did not gain distribution until approximately two years after editing for the film had been completed. The film was briefly screened at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where it was seen by film critics Tom Luddy and Peter Scarlet, who later brought it to the attention of fellow critic Susan Sontag, whose praised the film. Hers would be one of the most publicized reviews of the film and would be instrumental in the film's eventual release. In spite of Sontag's highly publicized review of the film, it was largely ignored by mainstream critics. It has been included multiple lists in various media outlets. It was followed by a short film sequel titled Din of Celestial Birds, which deals with the theory of evolution, and was released in 2006. The film has become an influence on several avante garde and experimental films and has been cited by several artists as inspiration for some of their works.


The film opens with a robed, profusely bleeding figure (listed in the credits as God Killing Himself) disemboweling itself with a straight razor inside a small shack. After spastically removing some of his internal organs, the man soon dies and a woman, Mother Earth, emerges from the mutilated remains. Bringing the figure's corpse to arousal, she impregnates herself with his semen. The film then cuts to the woman, now visibly pregnant, standing beside a coffin of what presumably contains the man's corpse. Wandering off into a vast and barren landscape, the woman later gives birth. Her child, a malformed convulsing man, listed in the credits as Son of Earth, 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 whom 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. Later they throw the man into a fire pit where he burns to death. Son of Earth is later resurrected by Mother Earth, who comforts her newly reborn offspring before they both continue across the barren landscape. The nomads soon reappear and proceed to brutally beat 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 proceeding to brutally rape and murder her as her son watches helplessly nearby.

Once the nomads have left, a group of robed figures arrives and carry away Mother Earth's mutilated remains, where they are disemboweled. After completing the grisly task, 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.[2]


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.
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.
The deformed, convulsing son of Mother Earth and God Killing Himself. Barry would later reprise his role in the film’s spiritual sequel, Din of Celestial Birds, which was also written and directed by Merhige.[3]

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.[2]


Critics have identified several major themes in Begotten. In several interviews, Merhige himself has acknowledged that he intentionally incorporated several major themes into the film, while also inviting viewers to form their own interpretations of the film.[4] Author Scott MacDonald noted that the film's plot is intentionally left ambiguous that not only contributed to the film's violence but also to invite multiple interpretations of the film.[5]

Death and rebirth[edit]

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.[6][7] Themes dealing with death and rebirth can be found throughout most of the director's works.[8] 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."[7]

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.[7] 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.[9] 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."[10]

Religion, mythology, and the occult[edit]

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

Many critics have pointed out the film's incorporation of various religious/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.[11][12] Merhige himself has acknowledged that the film was deliberately arranged to appear as a part of a mythology.[13] 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.”[14] 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."[15] 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".[16]

The film's opening sequence shares many similarities with various creation myths, specifically ones where life is generated from the corpse or dismemberment of originator deity.[17][18] 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.[19]

Janet Maslin of The New York Times categorized the film as being a "re-envision[ing] of primitive myths in visceral, monstrously immediate terms."[11] Film critic Richard Corliss from Time pointed out that the film contained multiple references to Druidism.[20] 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.[10]


Several critics, including Merhige himself, have pointed out possible influences for the film's visual style.[6] 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,[21] as well as the works of Bosch, Goya, Munk, Eisenstein, and Buñuel.[11] In a 1993 interview with author Scott MacDonald, Merhige would also list 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.[22] Film critic Eric D. Snider has pointed out that David Lynch's Eraserhead might have influenced the film's visual style as well.[23]


Development and pre-production[edit]

"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."[13]

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

Begotten was written, produced, and directed by Edmund Elias Merhige,[11] with development for the film beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s[21] (although some sources list the date as 1984).[24][25] 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 TheatreofMaterial, a small theatre production company based in New York City.[26] After working on several different experimental theatre productions, Merhige began developing his next project. The film was originally intended for the film 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[21] and, as members of the company started moving on to other things, Merhige wanted to keep a permanent record of the company's work,[13] and it was decided to make the script into a motion picture rather than a theatre production.[21]

Writing for the film's script was developed over a period of six months by Merhige[21] who was nineteen at the time he wrote the script.[6] Before working on Begotten, Merhige had previously made several short films such as Implosion (1983), Spring Rain (1984), and A Taste of Youth (1985). These short films were well-received, and gave the director the experience and insight he needed while working on Begotten.[27][28] 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 refused to deal with. In preparation for writing the film's script, Merhige and members of Theatre of Material would perform breathing exercises as a group, then examining the experience afterwards. As Merhige explained, “We would breath 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 portions that scared him, as well as ones that he wasn't able to understand but also stuck with him. The initial draft for the film's screenplay was then brought to the members of Merhige's Theatre of Material, who also worked as both the cast and crew for the film, where they would rehearse excerpts from the script, followed by the group discussing what they had just read and then 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.[13]


Principal photography took place over a period of three and a half years[Note 1] in the mid to late 1980s[21] in several different locations, with Merhige filling multiple roles in the film's production including working on the film's cinematography, and special effects, and was shot using a 16mm Arriflex camera on black and white reversal film.[21] Merhige had previously worked on several short film subjects before developing Begotten. These short films included Implosion (1983), Spring Reign (1984), and A Taste of Youth (1985).[29] 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: "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.[30] 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."[31]

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 when the construction crews weren't working, for a period of twenty days. 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.[21] Funding for the film came from a trust fund set up by Merhige's grandfather for getting into medical school,[Note 2] while additional costs were paid through Merhige working multiple jobs as a special effects artist.[30][21] Merhige later described his experience while 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.[21]

Post production[edit]

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 that depicted “a time that predated spoken language and communication being made on a sensory level.”[20][33] 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.[21][30] 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.[30][34] The optical printer was constructed by Merhige himself[35] over a period of eight months using old, spare parts that he acquired from camera stores and special effects houses that he had worked on and off at.[21][30][34] Merhige would later use this technique of what he called "rephotography" in his following film Shadow of the Vampire.[35] 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.[34] 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.[30] Most of the film was developed in a small developing studio located on 48th Street called Kin-O-Lux Labs, which was run by German immigrant Fred Schreck (no relation to famed German actor Max Schreck). Fred Schreck had immigrated from Germany right after World War II before working at Kin-O-Lux Labs. Merhige had met the elderly Schreck while he was developing test footage for the film which was shot at a different temperature than normally done. Merhige had been turned down by various studios where he tried to have the footage developed before going to Kin-O-Luz. Schreck immediately took a liking to the director and allowed Merhige to use the lab to develop the footage also teaching him how to hand-develop the footage.[6] Schreck is credited under "special thanks" in the film's credits.[2] 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."[12]

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.[21]



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

Begotten didn't gain distribution until approximately two years after editing for the film had been completed. During this time Merhige would show it to possible distributors in hopes of getting the film released, with most distributors refusing to release the film[21] as it didn't fit into a specific genre, making it tough to market the film. After a while of failing to gain distribution Merhige worked as the film's distributor for a time, taking it to a number of museums in hopes of eventually finding someone willing to distribute it. In the end, only two distributors showed any interest in the film, but both were turned down by Merhige who felt that they weren't up for the job.[36] 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 Luddy and Scarlet were fascinated by the film's distinct visual style and brought it to the attention of fellow critic Susan Sontag.[37] Sontag, an influential and controversial critic famous for her essays on photography, culture, and media, including various political topics,[38] set up a private screening at her home for some of her closest friends. Her review on the film, where her praise for the film would become one of the most publicized reviews of the film, would be instrumental for the films eventual release. Sontag later brought the film to the Berlin Film Festival, where acclaimed director Werner Herzog viewed the film. Merhige later recalled that Herzog was “very supportive of the film”.[21]

Theatrical release[edit]

Begotten was shown for the first time at the San Francisco International Film Festival,[39] and later screened at the Berlin Film Festival.[21] Its first official premiere took place at the New York City's Film Forum in the fall of 1990.[40][41] 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”.[42] 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 the film's spiritual sequel Din of Celestial Birds followed by an onstage discussion by writer/director Merhige.[45][46]

It was shown at the Music Box Theatre in Midtown Manhattan on September 25, 2016 during a 25th Anniversary celebration of the film 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 by Merhige.[47] It was later screened at the Short Film Festival in London on January 8, 2017; where it was shown in its original 16mm format, accompanied with a live music score from the film.[48]

Home media[edit]

Begotten had received very limited home media distribution after its theatrical release,[16] with current copies of the film being out of print and difficult to acquire.[20] 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 warmed up to the idea of releasing the film on home video; feeling that the original soundtrack mix, which he had not been completely satisfied with, could be enhanced through the medium.[22] The film was briefly released on VHS[49][21] by World Artists Home Video in 1995.[50] It was later given a very limited DVD release by World Artists on February 20, 2001. The release included a souvenir booklet, the original theatrical trailer for the film, rare, never-before-seen movie stills and production photos.[51][52] This copy of the film has long since gone out of print and is now considered exceedingly rare.[53][54] The extremely limited availability of the film has led to the circulation and distribution of semi-illegal copies, with digital copies having been made available through the use of bootlegged and pirated versions of the film.[55][16]

On July 29, 2016, director Merhige announced via Instagram that the film would be released for the first time on Blu-ray in Fall of that same year.[56] However, the distribution deal seemed to have fallen through, and no new updates were given.

During the film's 25th Anniversary screening alongside Shadow of the Vampire at Music Box Theatre in Midtown Manhattan,[47] Merhige again announced that the film would soon receive a Blu-ray release.[37][47] The release did not occur as announced.


Critical reception[edit]

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.[20] Merhige was initially afraid that audiences would misunderstand the film or not understand the 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."[36] 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.[57] 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;[3][57] while others have criticized these same merits along with its brutal violence, and running time.[58]

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".[59] 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."[18] 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".[60] Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader praised the film calling 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."[24][25] David Sterritt from Christian Science Monitor praised the film, 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."[61] Angelo from gave the film a positive review; stating in his review of the film, "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. You will see the horrors that man is capable of in shockingly graphic detail. 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".[62] 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.[63] 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.[64]

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.[58][9] 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”.[65] Rob Gonsalves from panned the film, awarding it one out of five stars. In a particularly scathing 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 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.”[66]


Begotten has gradually developed a cult following over the years[1] and is considered by some to be the director's masterpiece.[67][57][68] 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 the film's exposure being through the semi-illegal distribution of bootleg copies which they called a "copy-cult".[69] The film is currently banned in Singapore due to its graphic and disturbing content.[18]

Begotten has been included multiple lists in various media outlets. In 2012, Complex included the film on its list of 50 Most Disturbing Movies.[70] Sarah Gibson from Highsnobiety listed the film in her 10 of the Most Damaged and Disturbing Movies Ever Made.[71] 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".[72] Taste of listed the film 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."[73] It was placed at #4 on Nylon's "8 Most Disturbing Horror Films Ever Made".[74] 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."[75] In his book Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy, author Jason V. Brock listed the film at #7 as one of his favorite Radio, Film, and/or Television Productions.[76]

The film's critical success also proved to be a starting point for Merhige's filmmaking career,[21] who would go on to make the much praised Shadow of the Vampire[77] and Suspect Zero, the latter was released to negative reviews.[78] Actor Nicolas Cage, the producer of Shadow of the Vampire, had pushed for the director's hiring after viewing a copy of Begotten.[21][79][80][81]

Merhige was later hired by singer Marilyn Manson to direct music videos for his songs "Antichrist Superstar" and "Cryptorchid", the latter utilized imagery that was heavily incorporated from Begotten.[82][83] Manson was a huge admirer of Begotten,[6] 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". Merhige would end up directing music videos for both "Cryptorchid" and "Antichrist Superstar".[84] The latter video premiered at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 1997 where it won a Golden Gate Certificate of Merit Award.[85][6][86] It was subsequently barred from release by Interscope Records, whom Manson claimed were "appalled by it",[84] 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.[86][82] 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.[3]

Din of Celestial Birds[edit]

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 himself as the start of an unofficial trilogy. The second film in the trilogy, a 14-minute short titled Din of Celestial Birds,[55] was shot in similar visual fashion as Begotten.[3] As with the film's predecessor, Merhige fulfilled multiple roles during the film's 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.[87][88] According to Merhige, inspiration for the film 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 Merhige 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."[3]

Focusing on the theory of evolution, instead of religion and mythology,[89] The film opens with the text that reads: "hello and welcome ... do not be afraid ... be comforted ... remember ... our origin..." This is followed by images depicting the first violent formation of matter from nothingness. 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.[90]

Din of Celestial Birds premiered on Turner Classic Movies on September 15, 2006.[3] It was later screened alongside its predecessor at the festival SpectreFest Film Festival in 2015.[45]


Since its release, Begotten has become a minor influence on several avante garde and experimental films, and has been cited by several artists as inspiration for some of their works. In an interview with Muzzeland Press, visual artist and musician Rob Stanley listed Begotten's dark visual style as being an influence on his work.[91] Michael Pope’s acclaimed 2001 experimental film Neovoxer has been compared to Begotten, featuring a visual style and “impressionistic mythology” very similar to Merhige's film.[67] James Quinn's 2017 experimental horror film Flesh of the Void was noted by several critics as being stylistically similar to Merhige's film, and featured a similar narrative.[92][93] However, Quinn himself stated, in an interview with Nightmare on Film Street, that he felt his film didn't fall into the same category as Merhige's film.[94] Certain scenes from Blake Williams' 2018 avant-garde science fiction film Prototype were compared to Begotten by Glenn Kenny of The New York Times.[95] Certain scenes in Can Evrenol's 2015 surrealist horror film Baskin were compared to Begotten.[96] Kyle Turner from compared the 2015 experimental film Ville Marie as being very similar to Begotten in terms of cinematic style, and use of reverse-exposure.[97] Jimmy Joe Roche's 2018 experimental short film Skin of Man was said to have been influenced by Begotten.[98]

Lead singer Dimitri Giannopoulos, from the American rock band Horse Jumper Of Love, revealed that their single Airport was partially inspired by Begotten.[99] In an article written for ARTnews American music artist Zola Jesus credited Begotten as one of the inspirations for her 2017 music album Okovi.[100] The flashback sequences featured in Panos Cosmatos's 2010 film Beyond the Black Rainbow were said to be openly inspired by Begotten.[101] For their experimental musical composition Frankenstein Bemshi! at the Rochester Fringe Festival, performers Dave Esposito and G. E. Schwartz mixed portions of Merhige's Begotten with the 1910 film Frankenstein in accompaniment with live guitar music, electronic soundscapes, spoken narration, as well as poetry added as text to the movie's image.[102]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In an interview with Scott MacDonald, Merhige alternately stated that filming spanned over a period of five and a half months.[13]
  2. ^ A total of approximately $20,000.[32][30]


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  2. ^ a b c Merhige 1991.
  3. ^ a b c d e f TCM 2006.
  4. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 289.
  5. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 288.
  6. ^ a b c d e f FilmmakerMagazine 2000.
  7. ^ a b c Mapes 2004.
  8. ^ SouthernEyes 2011a.
  9. ^ a b Muir 2010.
  10. ^ a b Verrone 2011, p. 157.
  11. ^ a b c d Maslin 1991a.
  12. ^ a b MovieMakerMagazine 2007.
  13. ^ a b c d e MacDonald 1998, p. 286.
  14. ^ Verrone 2011, p. 154.
  15. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 290.
  16. ^ a b c Mathijs & Sexton 2012, p. 140.
  17. ^ Leonard & McClure 2004, pp. 32–33.
  18. ^ a b c Savlov 2009.
  19. ^ Aldama & Lindenberger 2016, p. 165.
  20. ^ a b c d Mathijs & Mendik 2011, p. 20.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Essman 2010.
  22. ^ a b MacDonald 1998, p. 292.
  23. ^ Snyder 2011.
  24. ^ a b Rosenbaum 1995a.
  25. ^ a b Rosenbaum 1995b.
  26. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 285.
  27. ^ Seibold 2016.
  28. ^ Allon, Cullen & Patterson 2002, p. 374.
  29. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 445.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g MacDonald 1998, p. 287.
  31. ^ Edwards 2018, p. 20.
  32. ^ LAWeekly 1994, p. 43.
  33. ^ Mathijs & Sexton 2012, p. 163.
  34. ^ a b c Hoberman 2003, p. 91.
  35. ^ a b Kaufman 2001.
  36. ^ a b MacDonald 1998, p. 291.
  37. ^ a b Nicolay 2016.
  38. ^ Sontag 2018.
  39. ^ SFFSa 2018.
  40. ^ Hoberman 2003, p. 90.
  41. ^ Prince 2002, p. 437.
  42. ^ MacDonald 1998, p. 284.
  43. ^ SpectacleTheater 2014.
  44. ^ Disser 2014.
  45. ^ a b Busch 2015.
  46. ^ Moore 2015.
  47. ^ a b c DO312 2016.
  48. ^ MothClub 2017.
  49. ^ TLAVideo 2003, p. 50.
  50. ^ Hall 1995.
  51. ^ Allmovie 2001a.
  52. ^ Henkel 2000.
  53. ^ Willmore 2014.
  54. ^ FilmThreat 2009.
  55. ^ a b Mathijs & Mendik 2011, p. 21.
  56. ^ Merhige 2016.
  57. ^ a b c Chaw 2015.
  58. ^ a b Muir 2011, pp. 140-142.
  59. ^ Allmovie 2001b.
  60. ^ Halen 2018.
  61. ^ Sterritt 1990, p. 11.
  62. ^ Angelo 2010.
  63. ^ Schwartz 2016.
  64. ^ Ambriz 2004.
  65. ^ Maslin 1991b.
  66. ^ Gonsalves 2006.
  67. ^ a b JamesRiverFilmFestival 2015.
  68. ^ Mathijs & Mendik 2011, pp. 20-21.
  69. ^ Mathijs & Sexton 2012, pp. 34-35.
  70. ^ ComplexMagazine 2018.
  71. ^ Gibson 2016.
  72. ^ Hurcomb 2015.
  73. ^ Blicq 2015.
  74. ^ Manders 2017.
  75. ^ Heigl 2017.
  76. ^ Brock 2014, p. 300.
  77. ^ FandangoMedia1a 2000.
  78. ^ FandangoMedia1b 2004.
  79. ^ Mottram 2014.
  80. ^ Massaccesi 2015, p. 113.
  81. ^ Blackwelder 2000.
  82. ^ a b Preira 2011.
  83. ^ Bennett 2019.
  84. ^ a b Celebritarian 2005, p. 5.
  85. ^ SFFSb 2017.
  86. ^ a b Barkan 2015.
  87. ^ FilmAffinity 2006.
  88. ^ ThirdEye 2016.
  89. ^ Traces d'Images 2017, p. 194.
  90. ^ SouthernEyes 2011b.
  91. ^ Raab 2016.
  92. ^ Millican 2017.
  93. ^ Romero 2018.
  94. ^ Derington 2017.
  95. ^ Kenny 2018.
  96. ^ FilmStage 2016.
  97. ^ Turner 2015.
  98. ^ CEFilmFestival 2019.
  99. ^ BWWNewsDesk 2019.
  100. ^ Jesus 2016.
  101. ^ Day 2012.
  102. ^ Lubitow 2018.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]


Din of Celestial Birds[edit]