Friday, 21 October 2011

Unit 1: Anatomy Essay

How is Human/Animal Metamorphosis Used in Film

This essay explores the use of Human/Animal metamorphosis as a means of metaphor in films to create a deeper meaning and to represent themes and issues present in society. It will focus particularly on Jean Cocteau’s ‘La Belle at la Bette’ (1946) which is a strong representation of the directors own personal insecurities.  David Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’ (1986) as this focuses on representing a major theme of the fear of disease in the 1980’s, Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Splice’ (2009) Which confronts the more recent fear or issue of genetic engineering, and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009) which is a metaphor of apartheid.

This assignment will begin by defining the key aspects of Therianthropy and discuss how these are used to dramatic affect in film, then explore the ways in which these techniques are used in the selected case-studies and to what affect. In conclusion, the discussion will seek to summarise the ways in which Therianthropy is used as a form of representation and its filmic values.

Therianthropy is a term which refers to the metamorphosis of humans into animal form. This refers to everything from figures such as Egyptian Gods to werewolves and chimeras, and is often applied to shape shifters and mythological creatures. The metamorphosis of a human into an animal will usually be focused on the definitive characteristics of an animal, for instance the mane on a lion or the long neck of a giraffe. These characteristics are applied to the human form and are exaggerated to the point that they are instantly recognisable and the animal can be identified even though there are only aspects of it shown. This is mostly used in myths and legends to create beasts such as the Minotaur and Harpies, and has become an interesting technique which directors and artists have used to create beasts and monsters for films, games, art and stories.

Therianthropy is often used in films as a way of representing something in a character for a specific meaning or purpose in order to create a deeper contextual message. There are several good examples of this, some of which work better than others, one very good example of Therianthropy being used as a form of representation is Jean Cocteau’s ‘La belle et la bête’(Beauty and the Beast) (1946). Beauty and the Beasty’s main character The Beast is a complex character which is a representation of Cocteau himself as he felt just like the beast in the film. ‘Much of the film's deep magic comes from Cocteau's sense of himself as a vulnerable beast-in-love: In his mid-50s when he made the film, Cocteau was openly gay in an often viciously homophobic post-Vichy France, an opium addict and plagued by skin-disfiguring eczema.’ (Cavitch 2011) The beast is a visual representation of how France saw Cocteau and the reaction that the beast received upon being seen is how Cocteau felt he was treated due to his lifestyle and his eczema. This technique of representation through Animal/Human metamorphosis became very popular in the early 1980’s and was very common in horror films, one film which was acknowledged for its horrifying effects and amazing transformation scene is David Cronenberg’s remake of ‘The Fly’ (1986).

In ‘The Fly’ a scientist undergoes a transformation after having his genes spliced with a common house fly, and his body begins to decay as he slowly becomes a giant mutated fly. In the 1980’s a major issue in society was the disease AIDS, in America the fear of the disease was on a huge scale "In 1985, at 13, Ryan White became a symbol of the intolerance that is inflicted on AIDS victims. Once it became known that White, a haemophiliac, had contracted the disease from a tainted blood transfusion, school officials banned him from classes." (Time Magazine1990). The Fly depicts AIDS as a cancerous disease which begins degrading a person’s body from within ultimately altering the way in which they are perceived by others, in this boy’s case he was seen as a monster even though he had done nothing wrong and was banned from his classes. Cronenberg utilizes this and creates a disgusting transformation where the end product is a giant fly tearing out of a humans decaying body. This metamorphosis is designed to purposefully repulse the audience in such a way that it is similar to a person’s reactions to AIDS at that time.

From this we can see that there is a link between Therianthropy and representation within film both on a large and small scale, this is still used in modern films such as Splice directed by Vincenzo Natali. Splice deals with the nature of genetic engineering at a very basic level as the main characters are actual scientists that are genetically engineering animals to create a protean that can be sold by a multinational organisation. This is a direct and very clear representation of the work of scientists during 2008/9 when ideas of human genetic engineering were hot topics. Instead of the creature being represented as a monster, it is the scientists and the corporations which are targeted and portrayed as the monsters in this film. Dren the creature which was the bi-product of the gene splicing is an innocent creature as she did not ask to be created, but she is still the one who is treated badly by the characters in the film as if she is a monster. This is very closely linked to the story of Dolly the Sheep who was cloned and instantly became a target of religious and humanitarian debates. It is easy to see the reasons behind this, humans should not play god, and this is clearly shown in Splice.

Continuing on the theme of Sci-Fi Therianthropy can represent much more than just an ideal or disease; this can be seen in the film District Nine. Directed by Niell Blomkamp District Nine is in essence one large metaphor ‘…Blomkamp (who also co-wrote the script with Terri Tatchell) milks his ostensibly fantastic scenario for all its allegorical worth. With its corrugated tin sheds and abject poverty, District 9 stands in for the township settlements where more than a million South African blacks still live without basic human services, two decades after the end of apartheid.’ (Foundas 2009) The mass of aliens now living in the same conditions as those in the times of apartheid are suppressed by the government in Johannesburg and forced to live in a state of poverty and disarray. However there were groups that formed within the government that apposed the apartheid and began to try and help the black community out of its slums, this is what Wikus, the main character is a metaphor for in this film. He, once infected with the alien fluid, begins to turn and help the aliens escape to their home planet. It was only with help from Wikus that they were able to leave alive, and was with the help of white groups that the apartheid was broken.

It is easy to see that representations are used in many films as a way to create a deeper story for the audience and the connection between individual characters and the viewer is emphasized through the use of metaphor.

After reviewing that each case study holds unique representations that are portrayed through the use of Therianthropy, we can come to the conclusion that human to animal metamorphosis is used in film as a means of representation and metaphor to create a deeper contextual meaning to each individual case study, and that the use of this technique is focused mainly on the horror and Sci-Fi genres. The outcome of this is a film which holds the viewer in a contemporary way as today films need to be more in depth as we demand interesting and new ways to be challenged.


La Belle et la Bette, [Film] Jean Cocteau, (1946) DisCina

The Fly, [Film] David Cronenberg, (1986) Brooksfilms

Splice, [Film] Vincenzo Natali, (2009) Gaumont, Copperheart Entertainment, Dark Castle Entertainment

District 9, [Film] Neill Blomkamp (2009) TriStar Pictures, Block / Hanson, WingNut Films

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