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Begotten (film)

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Release poster
Directed by E. Elias Merhige
Produced by E. Elias Merhige
Written by E. Elias Merhige
  • Brian Salzberg
  • Donna Dempsey
  • Stephen Charles Barry
Music by Evan Albam
Cinematography E. Elias Merhige
Edited by Noëlle Penraat
Theatre Of Material
William Markle Associates (Sound)
Distributed by World Artists (All media)
Release date
Running time
72 minutes
Country United States
Language Silent
Budget $33,000 (estimated)

Begotten is a 1990 American experimental dark fantasy horror film written, produced, edited and directed by E. Elias Merhige.[1] It narrates the story of Genesis while re-imagining it.

Begotten is considered by Merhige himself as the start of an unofficial trilogy. There is a prologue to the intended second installment in the trilogy, which is the 14-minute short Din of Celestial Birds, which deals with evolution and premiered in 2006 on Turner Classic Movies, and was shot in similar visual fashion as Begotten.[2]


The story opens with a robed, profusely bleeding "God" disemboweling itself, with the act ultimately ending in its death. A woman, Mother Earth, emerges from its remains, brings the dead body to arousal, and inseminates herself with its 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 appear and carry Mother Earth to another place, where they 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. Grainy photographs of God Killing Himself are shown. In a final scene, "Mother Earth" and "Son of Earth" are seen again in a flashback, this time wandering through a forest.


  • Brian Salzberg as God Killing Himself
  • Donna Dempsey as Mother Earth
  • Stephen Charles Barry as Son of Earth



Begotten was written, produced, and directed by Edmund Elias Merhige. Development for the film began in 1984.[3] Merhige, who owned a small theatre production company in New York City at the time, had worked on several different experimental theatre productions up to that point and was working on developing his next project. He had originally intended for the film to be a theatre production, and 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 that Merhige decided to make the script into a motion picture. Merhige, who was twenty at the time he wrote the script, was inspired by the theories and ideas of Antonin Artaud and Friedrich Nietzsche, which in his opinion had not been developed on film to the fullest extent.[4] Film critic Eric D. Snider pointed out that David Lynch's Eraserhead might have influenced the film's visual style as well.[5] The film incorporates many different religious themes and events from Christian 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.[3][6]


Filming took place over a period of three and a half years in several different locations, with Merhige filling multiple roles in the film's production including working on the film's cinematography, and special effects. The film was shot using a 16mm Arriflex camera on black and white reversal film. While filming, Merhige would experiment with the film reel 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. He then constructed one himself using old, spare parts that he acquired from camera stores and special effects houses.[4] The film was shot in several different locations, the majority of which took place on a construction site on the Northern end of New Jersey, at the New York border, for a period of 20 days.[4][6]


Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in 2001 by World Artists.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

Begotten has received mostly positive reviews from critics. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported an approval rating of 67%, based on 9 reviews, with a rating average of 6.3/10.[8] In 2012, Complex included the film on its list of 50 Most Disturbing Movies.[9]

Marc Savlov from the Austin Chronicle called the film "Experimental, haunting, dreamlike, and intentionally confounding". "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."[10] 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".[11] 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."[12] Susan Sontag called it "one of the 10 most important films of modern times".[13]

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".[14] Author and independent filmmaker John Kenneth Muir awarded the film 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.[15][16]

The film was banned in Singapore due to its graphic and disturbing content.[10]

Din of Celestial Birds[edit]

Din of Celestial Birds is a 2006 American experimental short film written, produced and directed by E. Elias Merhige on an estimated budget of $15,000 in cooperation with the Q6 production group, a collective of philosophers and artists. The film begins with the phrase "hello and welcome ... do not be afraid ... be comforted ... remember ... our origin..." and proceeds to depict the first violent formation of matter from nothingness. Then, after a hyper-accelerated trip through the evolution of life and the earth, the film culminates in the birth of an embryonic pseudo-humanoid called the Son of Light (Stephen Charles Barry) that reaches to some unknown source. It was distributed by Turner Classic Movies.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maslin, Janet (1991-06-05). "Begotten". The New York Times.
  2. ^ Din of Celestial Birds - Friday, September 15 at 8 & 11 P.M. E.T. and an additional showing at 4 A.M. E.T. Turner Classic Movies
  3. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Begotten". Chicago Reader. Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Essman, Scott. "Interview: Elias Merhige (Begotten)". Scott Essman. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  5. ^ Snider, Eric. "What's the Big Deal?: Eraserhead (1977)". Eric D. Snider. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  6. ^ a b Maslin, Janet. "Begotten - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes -". New York Janet Maslin. Retrieved 27 July 2015.
  7. ^ "Begotten (1991) - Releases - AllMovie". Allmovie. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  8. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes – Begotten". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  9. ^ Barone, Matt; Serafino, Jason (17 August 2012). "The 50 Most Disturbing Movies". Complex. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  10. ^ a b Savlov, Marc. ""Jane! Stop This Crazy Thing!" (The Downside to Galaxy Highland Theater's New Robotic Seats) Five Films We Don't Want to See in D-Box". Austin Marc Savlov. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  11. ^ "Film Review: Begotten (1990)". Horror Horror News. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  12. ^ Rosenbaum, Jonathan. "Begotten | Chicago Reader". Chicago Reader. Jonathan Rosenbaum. Retrieved 3 December 2014.
  13. ^ "Allmovie – Begotten".
  14. ^ "Begotten (Movie Review)". Angelo. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  15. ^ Muir, John (2011). Horror Films of the 1990s. McFarland & Company, Inc. pp. 140–142. ISBN 978-0-7864-4012-2.
  16. ^ Muir, John. "John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV: CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Begotten (1991)". John Kenneth Muir. Retrieved 22 December 2016.
  17. ^ Din of Celestial Birds - Friday, September 15 at 8 & 11 P.M. E.T. and an additional showing at 4 A.M. E.T. Turner Classic Movies

External links[edit]