Begotten (film)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Begotten is a 1990 American experimental horror film, written, produced and directed by E. Elias Merhige.

The film deals with the story of Genesis, re-imagining it. The second film of the unofficial trilogy, a 14-minute film entitled Din of Celestial Birds, deals with evolution. It premiered in 2006 on Turner Classic Movies, and was shot in similar visual fashion.



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, arouses the body, and impregnates 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, carry her off and 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.


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


Begotten features no dialogue, but uses harsh and uncompromising images of human pain and suffering to tell its tale. It also has little music, and is instead accompanied by the sounds of crickets, and occasionally other sound effects such as grunting and thrashing. It was shot on black and white reversal film, and then every frame was rephotographed for the high-contrast look that it presents. The look is described in the trailer as "a Rorschach test for the eye". Merhige said that for each minute of original film, it took up to 10 hours to rephotograph it for the look desired.


The film was later released on DVD in 2001 by World Artists.

Critical reception

"Few motion pictures have the power to jolt an audience with the fury, imagination, and artistic violence of Begotten, a 1991 tour de force from Elias Merhige currently debuting on home video. This cryptic independent production is a film of eccentric brilliance, skillfully balancing the glorious and the grotesque in an unforgettable work of art." --Phil Hall, Wired

Critical reception for the film has been mostly positive. 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".

Susan Sontag called it "one of the 10 most important films of modern times."

It currently holds of 67% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The film is currently banned in Singapore.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Begotten (film)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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