Begotten is a 1989 American experimental horror feature film, written, produced and directed by E. Elias Merhige (Shadow of the Vampire).
The film deals with the story of Genesis, re-imagining it. Merhige revealed during Q&A sessions that its primary inspiration was a near-death experience he had when he was nineteen-years-old, after a car crash.
Merhige also stated that he would like this film to be the first of a trilogy. He was experiencing difficulties getting proper funding, and at the time it was unknown if/when the two other films would be made. The second film of the unofficial trilogy, a fourteen-minute film entitled Din of Celestial Birds, deals with evolution.
The story opens with a robed, profusely bleeding “God” disembowelling himself, with the act ultimately ending in his death. A woman, Mother Earth, emerges from his remains, arouses the body, and impregnates herself with his 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 appears, 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.
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 re-photographed for the high-contrast look that it presents.
“Featuring imagery that is simultaneously hypnotic and disgusting, and influences ranging from ancient mythology to The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Merhige crafts an unforgettable motion picture experience, a movie that seems to revel in its own ambiguity while, at the same time, challenging the audience’s perceptions of life and death.” 2,500 Movies Challenge
“Begotten may be one of horror cinema’s greatest examples of the mythical movie – one which has earned its reputation as an endlessly provocative and mystifying experience always centuries ahead of the rest of American cinema, even when it looks like it appeared on Earth thousands of years ago.” Fangoria
“Guaranteed to be unlike any other cinematic experience you have ever had, Begotten is in a rare class all its own. Mesmerizing, captivating, upsetting, disturbing, grotesque, disorienting, confusing these are all words that can be used to describe the experience of viewing Begotten. Most importantly and finally, the film can be summed up in just two very important words, amazingly entertaining.” Monsters at Play
“Makes Eraserhead looks like Ernest Saves Christmas” Time magazine