Friday, March 26, 1999

Exquisite, sickly, beautiful feast

Movie: Ravenous

Posted on Fri, Mar 26, 1999 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 4.00

The question is this: If you were banished to a desolate military outpost in the Sierra Nevada where savage winds howl over icy mountains in the company of wolves; if you were a bloody mess, stabbed in the belly and bleeding from the head, tormented by visions of perforated lungs rotting at the mercy of the consumption bacillus; if morality, values and discernment suddenly became obstacles in the path of your healing; if you had a few brutal choices to make that would allow you to keep on breathing but would strip you of all human traits, what would you do? Would you eat or would you die? Would you be a survivor or a quitter, a hero or a traitor to the human race?

"Eat to live, and not live to eat," said Ben Franklin, and the two main characters of this gruesome fable -- Capt. John Boyd ("L.A. Confidential's" Guy Pearce) and Colqhoun (Robert Carlyle of "The Full Monty" and "Trainspotting" in a ferocious performance) -- cannot help but obey his command. The year is 1847 and America, the land of relentless consumption, embraces both the white man who helps himself to the body of Christ every Sunday in church and the spirit of Weendigo, the old Indian myth which states that a man who eats the flesh of another steals his strength.

A tale which suggests that "cannibalism isn't so much a matter of survival, but more a matter of want," Antonia Bird's "Ravenous" is not a film for the squeamish or the hypocritical. Inspired by an actual historical event -- the 1847 Donner Pass disaster in which a group of immigrants ran out of food and ate the bodies of their dead -- "Ravenous" explores not only the nature of the human beast (survival of the fittest) but also the limits of the severe "hunger" triggered by addiction.

The jolly tunes of Michael Nyman ("The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover") which accompany the chilling performances of a superb cast add an unexpected touch of dark humor to this exquisite, sickly, beautiful feast. So, if your palate can take it ... Bon Appétit!


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