Even though I have seen countless films and have traveled through some of the darkest and most disturbing nether regions of the internet, there still remain moments when I am shocked out of my desensitized shell and genuinely and profoundly and utterly repulsed. Those also happen to be some of my very favorite moments. There’s certainly a devilish perversion in witnessing something so sick and twisted that it practically knocks you right off your seat (or at least there is for me anyway).
More importantly, since I consume film and music and art and all manner of disturbing things with startling voracity, it is critically important to continue to push forward and find The New. We cannot spend our days constantly devouring the same rote sludge that pops up most frequently in pop culture. (And, yes, I recognize I am sounding like a Giant Asshole, so apologies for that.) No, we need to find The New and the exciting and the surprising. And often those characteristics are most easily found by trawling through the most disturbing of areas.
As a frequent visitor of one of the most consistently unsettling places on the internet, the WTF subreddit on Reddit.com, I’ve seen people run over by cement trucks, gruesome decapitations and examples of appendage removal, entrails strewn in places where they should not be, gory fights and attacks, and just about every other terrible thing that has sprang up across the web in the years since I first began using the site. These are real videos of real people having terrible things happen to them – and I hardly bat an eye at any of it.
So, it’s all the more shocking to me when I watch a film like Bullhead and become supremely disturbed by the events that take place onscreen. In this fictional world filled with fictional characters who speak lines written for them by paid professionals, a scene can affect me to a greater degree than all of the most horrible elements of the internet (and every other film I have ever seen).
(Half of my brain screams in terror, while the other half drowns in endorphins. It’s a reaction any adrenaline junkie can instantly identify.)
Bullhead, also known as Rundskop in its native Belgium, is a 2011 crime thriller about the Mafioso world of livestock. Even though I had never known there was such a thing as a Belgian Mafioso livestock world, the inherent concept isn’t dramatically different from any other crime thriller. You have your “bad guy” protagonists and the “badder guy” antagonists who, through either a purposeful action or provincial bad luck, are causing problems.
But it’s something far different from your normal crime thriller. There is a darkness that lives and breathes within the frames of this film, and a horrible moment of revelation that I expect its viewers to not soon forget. And, no, I will not be revealing the exact details of this event. If you would like to find out what I feel is the single most disturbing cinematic thing I have ever witnessed you will simply have to watch the film for yourself.
It does occur to me that the element of surprise plays a large factor in my crowning of that particular scene in Bullhead as one of a most repulsive nature. When I scan through the internet’s gruesome images, I am already mentally prepared for an onslaught of depravity. When I saw some of the movies that are consistently bandied about as Extremely Disturbing (Audition, Antichrist, Requiem for a Dream, Deliverance, Hostel, Inside, etc. [I have deliberately not seen gore fests like A Serbian Film or Human Centipede because they seem to be both boring and terribly mediocre films]), I went into the film already with the predetermined knowledge that I would be seeing some pretty messed up stuff. I may not have known the plots, but the reputations of the films were too great to go unnoticed.
It was different with Bullhead. I began watching the film without any prior knowledge. I had never seen it pop up on film forums or heard my friends discussing it. (Though, true be told, if someone from my group of friends is going to be discussing Belgian crime films it’s undoubtedly going to be me).
And, sure, this may be where you start complaining that I have robbed you of the chance to watch Bullhead with as little prior knowledge as possible. I would agree with that sentiment, but such is the necessary evil of a film editorial, is it not?
So, what do we take away from watching these gruesome scenes in our films and our grainy security cam internet videos? One may certainly develop a bit of a warped sense about the world or perhaps even end up sequestering themselves in their homes for the rest of their natural lives. But probably not. Simply witnessing carnage should (emphasis on the should) not be the impetus that pushes someone over the edge into violent volatility. If it was, the world would be a much grimmer place to live and we would all be terrible deviants.
No, the world is not all bad, nor are the majority of its inhabitants “bad.” In fact, it’s very much closer to the opposite; maybe that is why we can “enjoy” some of the more debased things that pop up on the internet or in movies. We’re searching for the next thrill, the next surprise, and maybe even the next opportunity to better empathize with our fellow man. And if we have to watch a few elaborate cinematic deaths to find it, well, all the better then.
Perhaps because evil (or whatever word we want to use to describe tyrants and serial killers such as Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, or Joseph Stalin) is such an unusually rare trait in a human, we are able to watch examples of it – whether fictionalized or not – and still be comfortable in our lives since we recognize we are far away from it affecting us.
And let us just hope it stays far away from us.