The Green Inferno: Nature Stewardship, Postmodern Horror and Green Torture Porn

Eli Roth’s 2013 cinematic effort The Green Inferno has been widely described as a ‘gleefully offensive cannibalistic torture off,’ as a ‘deeply hate xenophobic fantasy’ and, quite fancily, as a ‘vegan cannibal movie,’ while referring to the horrors and real sufferings of animals that featured in Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 cannibal craze Cannibal Holocaust.[1][2][3][4] In an era when the shock factor in films have been transforming significantly and as visual and economic exploitation of violence, gore and human disaffection became the norm in mainstream horror cinema, the Inferno still managed to spark blunt, sharp-tongued criticism in mainstream media outlets. While most of its reviews focus on the guts-wrenching gore that keeps viewers on the edge of their seat throughout the film and the disgust it provokes, I will frame my discussion of the film in ecocritical terms, as a postmodern cultural artifact that casts sharp critiques to the way Western understanding of environment and human ‘stewardship’ are deeply entwined with discourses of power, economic gain and consumption as a ‘mode of being’, as Madan Sarup puts it in his discussion of Jean Baudrillard’s postmodern theories.[5]

Figure 1.png

Figure 1: A group of students chain themselves to trees in the Amazon to stop brutal deforestation by an unethical corporation that uses militia to prevent activists and natives alike to stop bulldozing trees. Our students/activists will not last long.

 

The Green Inferno presents a brooding narrative. The first half of the film sets the narrative foundations to allow it to take off in the gory-driven second part, thus letting context and scope to sink in in the viewers’ mind that is restlessly waiting for the blood to hit the screen. The film follows college freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo) as she, together with her dismissive, sarcastic and cynical roommate Kaycee (Sky Ferreira) attend a lecture on female genital mutilation across the world and, thunder-struck by her and her friends’ disheartening ignorance in regards to human rights, embarks on a journey to the Amazon, Peru, led by the handsome activist Alejandro (Ariel Levy). The trip’s cause is the deforestation of the Amazon manned by some evil corporation that aims to destroy the Amazon for financial gain, while killing the natives that live in harmony with the jungle. Aided with courage and thirst for adventure, Justine, Alejandro and a whole team of young listless students envision to chain themselves to the soon-to-be-bulldozed trees while recording and online streaming in real time the horrible unethical deeds of the corporation workers in the Amazon (Figure 1). While they succeed in their endeavour, the plane that was supposed to take them back home crashes in the jungle and the student cohort end up literally being eaten alive by some cannibal tribe that, ironically, they set out to defend in the first place. Amid ridiculously gory moments and smart deadpan puns exchanged in the least expected of situations, Roth’s Inferno fiercely critiques contemporary social engagement and green activism, by actively engaging with the Christianity-rooted concept of stewardship in an unlikely terrific narrative.

According to John Barry, ‘many of the environmental and social problems that we see around the world today […] may have to do with the prominence of a particular Western way of thinking about and interacting with the environment.’[6] In this sense, the student cohort that naively attempts to save the Amazon represents that deeply Christian concept of nature stewardship according to which ‘the natural environment was ”God’s creation”,’ in which ‘[m]an… is sent to earth by God “to administer earthly things”, to care for them in God’s name.’[7]  One of the Western views of nature and man is that one based on human supremacy, exploitation and responsibility. Insofar as Christianity is concerned, people are invested with the duty to manage or, alternatively, exploit the natural environment in someone else’s frail name to mask one’s personal interest, which, according to Eli Roth, lies in generating money.

 If the corporation’s deeds against the environment and the natives represent the threat of modern civilization towards nature, they ambivalently embody contemporary society’s main discourse of technological and scientific mastery that more often than not damages the natural environment in order to make life easier to its human inhabitants. In fact, Justine and the other young activists seem to resist this narrative of exploitation, but end up reinforcing it when we discover that their leader Alejandro had a monetary agreement with the militia and corporation’s workers to exploit the media to fake the end of their activities, while keeping them in secrecy from that moment on. In Ruth Hines view, money is what kills nature, what makes it a commodity that we, as humans try to get rid of to generate even more money.[8] In this case, the students’ sense of stewardship is shattered by Alejandro’s bias and financial interests, making the expedition a failure in morality and, above all, a fierce critique of Christian stewardship and people’s ignorance. In fact, all the students except for Justine will be punished and fall victims of a local cannibal tribe. Hines’ heartfelt discussion of the dichotomy finance – physical destruction and replacement of natural elements weaves in Jean Baudrillard’s idea that contemporary social discourses push the individual to consume in order to ‘gain identity, meaning and prestige.’[9] Comsumerism is the foundation of our postmodern society and Eli Roth manages to embody its devastating effects on the natural environment, but fails to offer a solution while focussing on ensuring shocking bloody sequences and highlighting the characters’ lack of real interest in green activism.

In the discussion about postmodern horror and its founding principles, Jody Keisner suggests that this kind of cinema exposes the viewer to situations that push him/her/it to question the very reality of the film.[10] In The Green Inferno, the characters’ attention seems to be utterly drawn by the self, by their own image and what the others might think of themselves by repeatedly putting their individuality at the centre of attention. For example, after having spotted a panther basking under the sun on the edges of a river, queer character Samantha (Magda Apanowicz) remarks that that image is going to be her next tattoo, instead of actually enjoying the moment. Later in the film and during the students’ imprisonment, Amy (Kirby Bliss Blanton) is offered meat to eat by the tribe and she states that she cannot feed herself on meat because she is a vegan. Once she decides that eating is the sensible thing to do in such extreme situation, she discovers that that food is in reality her girlfriend’s human meat (Samantha’s) and she slits her throat open. In this regards, the viewer is pushed to question the very intention of a group of extremely self-centred narcissistic young individuals that embark on a journey to allegedly save the Amazon, but that ultimately are too concerned with their own sense of identity to even save each other when in need.

Figure 2.png

Figure 2: Gabrielle concept of Torture Porn is a recurrent theme in Eli Roth’s films. Here, the viewer watches in disbelief while the natives strip naked, touch and tackled the characters’ bodies in socially unacceptable ways.

 The reality of the Inferno’s naïve characters seems fictitious and frivolous, embodying Baudrillard’s reflection on the impossibility ‘to distinguish between the spectacle and the real’ in our media and image- saturated society.[11] By not taking seriously the characters’ willingness to contributing to save the Amazon, by being flipped out by the cannibal tribe’s sickening violence and thus by not sympathising with neither of them, the viewer’s sense of reality quivers and ultimately forgets about the threat cast to the Amazon, making it a mere McGuffin for green torture porn that exists to shock, disturb and numb one’s senses of what is real and not. In fact, while discussing the social impact of Eli Roth’s Box Office darling  Hostel[12] (2005) and Hostel: Part II[13] (2007), Gabrielle Murray mentions that the term ‘torture porn’ that have been attached to the Hostel franchise by reviewers, refers to ‘obscene or unchaste subjects,’ that are ‘unacceptable and illegal, that appeal to individuals that are looking to be thrilled and re-connected to the experience of the present moment, brought ‘back to the body’. Quite reassuringly, this kind of films create a safe environment to experiment with those anxieties and fears attached to the unknown, the body, the abject (Figures 2 and 3).[14][15][16]

Figure 3.png

Figure 3: The Green Inferno and more generally horror film offer a safe way to explore fear, disgust and discover the human body while encouraging the viewer to experience the here-and-now. Here, a native is cooking an activist’s upper body.

If the bloody experiences of those unfortunately spoiled kids in The Green Inferno keep us stuck to our cinema seat leaving absolutely no time for our brains to wander off, the reassuring certainty that what we are exposed to is fiction that exists to entertain its audiences then the fact that the Amazon is being destroyed and bulldozed down by money-blinded businesses appears secondary, fictionalised, brought to the extreme to allow the narrative to relentlessly shock. Unfortunately for us and more local tribes to come, the Amazon greenery is being exploited and burnt on a daily basis, with little scope for improvements because of deforestation and climate change factors, as Rhett Butler highlights here and David Adam mentions here.[17][18]

 

[1] Steve Rose, ‘The Green Inferno Review’, The Guardian, 24 September 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/sep/24/the-green-inferno-review-gleefully-offensive-cannibal-torture-off [Accessed 01/04/2017]

[2] David Jenkins, ‘The Green Inferno’, Little White Lies, 12 February 2016. http://lwlies.com/reviews/the-green-inferno/ [Accessed 01/04/2017]

[3] David Jenkins, ‘The Green Inferno’.

[4] Cannibal Holocaust. Dir. by Ruggero Deodato. F.D Cinematografica. 1980. [DVD]

[5] Madam Sarup, ‘Baudrillard: Images and Identity in Consumer Society’, in Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), pp.105-119 (p.105).

[6] John Barry, ‘The Role of the Environment Historically within Social Theory’, in Environment and Social Theory (Abington: Routledge, 2007), pp. 31-50 (p. 32).

[7] John Barry, p.38.

[8] Ruth Hines, ‘On Valuing Nature’, Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol 4.3, 1991, pp. 27-29 (p.28). [PRINTED]

[9] Madam Sarup, ‘Baudrillard: Images and Identity in Consumer Society’, in Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), pp.105-119 (p.105).

[10] Jody Keisner, ‘Do You Want to Watch? A Study of the Visual Rhetoric of the Postmodern Horror Film’, in Women’s Studies, 37.4, 2008, pp. 411-427 (p.416). http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00497870802050019 [Accessed 01/04/2017]

[11] Madam Sarup, ‘Baudrillard: Images and Identity in Consumer Society’, in Identity, Culture and the Postmodern World (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), pp.105-119 (p.112).

[12] Hostel. Dir. by Eli Roth. Hostel LLC, International Production Company, Next Entertainment. 2005. [DVD]

[13] Hostel: Part II. Dir. by Eli Roth. Lionsgate, Screen Gems, Next Entertainment. 2007. [DVD]

[14] Gabrielle Murray, ‘Hostel II: Representations of the Body in Pain and the Cinema Experience in Torture Porn’, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Review Media. No. 50., Pp1-3 (p.2). http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc50.2008/TortureHostel2/ [Accessed 20/03/2017]

[15] Murray, p.2.

[16] Murray, p.3.

[17] Rhett Buther, ‘Amazon Destruction’, Mongabay, 26 january 2017 (Last Updated). http://rainforests.mongabay.com/amazon/amazon_destruction.html [Accessed 01/04/2017]

[18] David Adam, ‘Amazon Could Shrink by 85% Due to Climate Change, Scientists Say’, The Guardian, 11 March 2009. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/mar/11/amazon-global-warming-trees [Accessed 01/04/2017]

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