Disturbing Films and Their Artistic Merit


When is something considered “art”? Is something considered art when it serves a valuable purpose and results in some positive outcome? It has been postulated that “that which harms has no value”. But perhaps, artistic value exists in the sheer fact that emotion is evoked and creativity is involved. One’s chosen definition for what qualifies “art” will influence how a person evaluates the artistic merits of the disturbing films “Body Shock: The Man Who Ate His Lover”, “Zoo”, and “The Cove”. First, let’s examine a film that can be generally understood as one with artistic value. “The Cove”, accounts the brutal hunting of Dolphins in Japan. The film depicts seas of red, resulting from the massive and staggering amount of Dolphin killings. The traumatic nature of the film, although unsettling, works to its benefit because it causes the public to walk away feeling shocked, moved, and desperate to somehow make a change. This film neither exploits nor uses the Dolphin violence as its lure. Rather, its purpose lies in its ability to bring awareness to the horrors in our midst and evoke a call to action. In contrast, the purpose for the documentary, “Body Shock: The Man Who Ate His Lover” (2004) is much more questionable. This documentary is about a man named Armin Meiwes, also known as “The Rotenberg Cannibal”, who used a website called “Cannibal Café” to fulfill an unusual and disturbing sexual fantasy. His post said word for word: “Looking for a well-built man to be slaughtered and then consumed.” His search was successful and he hung his victim on meat hooks and ate his flesh, with the help of his willing victim on consuming his own severed penis. This film is especially traumatizing because unlike a horror movie, it is a documentary surrounding a true account of cannibalism. It seems here as though the filmmaker aiming for maximum shock value. “Zooiphilia” (2007) is another example of an upsetting film, especially for those of us who are animal lovers. The theme of this movie is bestiality involving a man named Kennith Pinyan and a horse. The anal sex he has with his horse eventually kills him, as he develops peritonitis due to a perforation in his colon. For what purpose were these inappropriate films made? Perhaps to inform; but are cannibalism and bestiality things we really need to know about? It could be argued that “The Cove” holds more artistic merit because its end value is to move us to act, whereas “Body Shock” and “Zoo” appear to have no higher intentions than to cause harm. So in this case, is it appropriate that “Zoo” was included in the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, and was one of 16 winners out of 856 candidates? One might possibly argue that shock value is a form of pretention disguised as art, which is just as valid in that it evokes emotion. Moreover, effective filmmaking requires creative measures in order to manipulate emotions. In my opinion, this conceivably qualifies these films as art.

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