After two minutes worth of scenes cut from the movie, the Human Centipede II was recently given an 18 certificate and it can now be screened in the UK. It was initially banned in June.
My response to the British Board of Film Classification's ban of the Human Centipede II was 'good'. I was glad that the film could not be bought on DVD or downloaded legally anywhere in the UK because it is "sexually violent and potentially obscene" [see reasoning].
The Human Centipede is about a surgeon who obsesses about creating the first human centipede. He surgically connects two stranded tourist girls and a Japanese tourist via their gastric systems. The sequel, which was already planned with the release of the first movie, is meant to be even worse but I won't tell you how, see the BBFC ruling for more details on that.
So far I can see no merit in the movie and felt justified in being glad that it was banned but what does that say about freedom of expression and censorship?
After all, the work is fantasy, no one really gets hurt, it's all make believe. This is pretty much what the film's maker Tom Six says as well.
David Cox in the Guardian points out that it is the link between sex and pleasure that was the primary reason for the ban and this brings to mind the sexualization of children and the new regulations being considered by the government about companies being made responsible.
"I fundamentally don't believe in censorship, however I do fundamentally believe in responsibilities. Where those meet is an interesting point" says Mark Cosgrove, head of programming at the independent cinema Watershed which screened Human Centipede in 2010. Freedom of expression is surrounded by ethical and moral responsibilities. What is depicted, must have some sort of effect.
The effect of movies is mentioned in a piece on Think Progress about two new movies about mass shootings: We Need To Talk About Kevin and Beautiful Boy. Alyssa Rosenberg concludes her post by wondering how useful these movies were "in trying to make sure that spree killings happen with less frequency".
That question feels wrong. Freedom of expression versus responsibility sounds right. Ensuring art is useful however sounds wrong. Authors and film makers aren't here to guide reality but to represent their version of it. Unaccountable and free to do as they please, it would be a serious mistake to ask them to provide work that is for the good of society.
But then what about having everything freely available and letting the audience choose? The choice in our cinemas most of the time is imposed by huge American production teams presenting us with the latest Hollywood blockbusters. The same famous actors getting paid millions to act in run of the mill stories that also provide no useful lesson. I doubt they could even be called art.
Choice in capitalism is not about freedom but about purchasing power. Independent cinemas, like the Watershed who will be showing Human Centipede II after all, are few and far between.
While I'd like agree with the arguments for freedom of expression in this case, I won't be doing it for the reasons of choice. There are so many things hampering choice in the movie industry that banning and certifying the Human Centipede II is but a tiny footnote and a trivial one at that.
There are more serious discussions that we could be having. After all, people being connected up and forced to digest the same 'crap' is not too far away from a representation of what's availabe at the cinema these days anyway.