The Cannibal Aesthetic: Poetry and Feminist Film after the Millenium

Siobhan Dale, co-Editor-in-Chief

This year, I’ve been writing my senior thesis, which is a poetic response to the violence against women in the genre of the pseudo-snuff film. As part of my research, I have watched a wide variety of horror films, ranging from the excessively violent “torture porn” of snuff to feminist revisions of the genre. I’ve gotten increasingly fascinated by cannibals and cannibalism, spurred on in part by an efflorescence of feminist films in which cannibalism is deployed to challenge gender roles and to rethink the category of beauty itself. I’ve written a series of poems in which I respond to the provocation offered by those films with my own take on the figure of the cannibal.  

Feminist Cannibals:  the Beautiful Subject

A Girl Walks Home Alone by Ana Lily Amirpour

My thinking about cannibals in film has been influenced by the idea of the “beautiful product” in the work of Dominique Gracia; she argues that the traditional cannibal in films is motivated by aesthetic desire:  the (male) cannibal destroys his victims in order to create “beautiful products” (“Psychopath Aesthetics: The Example of The Cannibal”). In contrast, in recent feminist films we see the cannibal as what I call “the beautiful subject.” After Ana Lily Amirpour’s critical success with her film A Girl Walks Home At Night a number of female filmmakers emerged who claimed cannibalism as a feminist theme. Amirpour’s film moved this aesthetic of cannibalism away from the “product” (the women being devoured) and toward the act of cannibalism. These feminist films often elicit empathy for their cannibal, who is frequently a woman. By using female cannibals, women directors have reclaimed the horror genre: instead of depicting women as objects whose bodies are destroyed by male killers, these directors have created female agents who literally consume the bodies of their victims.

This shift, from women as the objects of the film’s gaze to women as its subjects, is most visible in the aesthetic choices made by feminist filmmakers. Instead of lingering on the devoured body, and thereby aestheticizing its fragmentation and object status, these filmmakers emphasize the act of cannibalism: the ways in which the process of consumption can be aesthetically challenging and significant. For instance, Julia Ducornau’s film Raw contains a sequence where where a young woman covered in blue paint is locked in a bathroom with a young man covered in green paint. The two are told to not come out of the bathroom “until they are both green.” The two begin rubbing the paint onto each other, and when the young man kisses the young woman, she bites him, so that red blood begins running onto the bathroom floor. Ducornau was lauded by critics for her ability to transform a scene of violence into an incredibly aesthetic scene through her commitment to variations on color and her directorial style of commanding body movements.

The Lure by Agnieszka Smoczyńska

Agnieszka Smoczyńska, director of The Lure, choreographed a film that was deemed  “a kaleidoscopic cannibal mermaid movie.” Her film plays out as a fairytale musical in which the act of cannibalism is accompanied by intermittent musical numbers. The aesthetic of the cannibal that Gracia discusses is still present; however the filmic gaze has shifted from the object of violence to its subjects: those who commit the acts that create the films’ paradoxically beautiful but horrifying visuals

The Poetics of the Cannibal

In my own writing, I have sought to render in a textual medium some of the same effects achieved by the feminist revision of the horror genre.  Below are two poems excerpted from a longer project on cannibals:

Cannibal List I:

  1. I count zero ways because you’re an animal.
  2. NOT CANNIBALISTIC. I mean, can we be sadistic, Can we be sadistic, can we please be sadistic. I want to be sadistic.
  3. NOT RITUALISTIC.
  4. Ritual cannibals talk too much,
  5. I prefer to suck.
  6. Can I suck your breasts, I’ll be soft.
  7. You say, stop asking if you can, cannibal.
  8. You’re supposed to be a sadist, since

Cannibal List II:

I counted all the ways. Counted all your bodies,

  1. I ticked off all your bodied,
  2. declared your life too cheap my price.
  3. Wow. She says. That’s rude.
  4. Let me see what you wrote there, that’s mean.
  5. We are absolutely not friends anymore.
  6. Can you try to sound more poetic please?
  7. I ask her. I have to write this out.
  8. I like poetry

Poetry can be fun when you’re a cannibal!!

Hold still, I have more to count.

Counting can be fun when you’re a cannibal!!

  1. I’ve never read a poem, she says. What do I say?

I say, you say things like,

Poetry can be fun when you’re a cannibal!!

gagged animal I stomached all your ice/Inside your ice lived a lovely world/a world I regressed twice/I regress to dress/dress/each bandaged blood bruise/I choose you undressed/twice regressed/Twice/into dressed/always caressed/Always caress each pinnacle of ice/no matter point/no matter your own life/I choose your own life/You/are mine/Stittled in/All ice.


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