"If you kill a whale, you get Greenpeace and Jacques Cousteau on your back, but wipe out sardines and you get a canning subsidy!"
The NC-17 rating was designed to be a rating for films that were made solely for adults. Once the X rating, the letters used were forced to change due to the pornography industry’s use of the never formalized XXX rating. I like the NC-17 in theory because it keeps children from seeing movies that they have no business being allowed to see. But is that not what the R rating is for? Well, you see, the only thing that stands between young kids and an R rating is a cool uncle, older sibling or dimwitted parent. NC-17 means that NOBODY under eighteen can see this film. Sadly, this has become a death sentence for any film that receives the rating. God forbid theatres turn paying customers away for the sake of morality. Most theatres won’t even touch an NCer.
The reason I go on this tirade is because my latest film from the 1077 Films to See Before You Die is rated NC-17. Man Bites Dog is one of the darkest films that I have ever seen, especially for a comedy. In fact, I have a hard time calling it a comedy at all. The film is a “mockumentary” meant to resemble a cinéma vérité styled documentary. What are they documenting? Man Bites Dog is about a camera crew that dementedly shadows a serial killer in his duties. They watch as he kills old ladies and children; they even start to help the killer, Ben, with his work.
The film was written and directed by the three men we see on screen the most. Benoît Poelvoorde plays the serial killer and the other two creators play members of the camera crew. Poelvoorde is so sinister, pretentious and vile in this role that it is almost hard to believe he is not an actual killer. We see him do things like kill children and little old ladies all the while spouting off poetry and philosophy that he clearly does not truly grasp. The ridiculousness of the things he says is what really makes the film funny, because there is nothing about Ben’s actions that would make an audience laugh.
One scene is particularly gruesome. After the camera crew becomes more accustomed to their subject’s body of work, they actually begin taking an active role in his acts. This includes a gruesome rape scene that features Ben and the camera crew taking turns at the expense of a fully naked and exposed woman. As intense as that sounds, they also have her original partner, a fully naked man, at gun point forcing him to watch as his presumed wife gets brutally raped.
It is true that we have seen killings and rapes in movies before, so what makes Man Bites Dog worthy of the infamous NC-17? The difference between this and your average (R rated) Saw (2004) is that the action is in no way stylized to seem less real. The men behind the film wanted to make the most realistic looking fictional documentary that they could manage. They used black and white coloring, mainly due to a shoestring budget, that added to the dirty feeling of the picture. They used their real names and family members to try and confuse viewers into thinking that the action was real. They also graphically showed the killings as if they were educational looks into the life of your everyday serial killer. To top it all off, they make all of it in jest. If any film has earned the NC-17, it is Man Bites Dog.
Roger Ebert has argued that the NC-17 needs to be replaced with a less vilified “A” rating for adults only. I respectively disagree with him. I simply believe that NC-17 should not be kept out of your everyday cinema. The fact that the NC-17 is the death sentence for most films does nothing but limit the messages that adult filmmakers can deliver to adult consumers. Man Bites Dog is not for children, but it should be seen by adults. It is a haunting and engrossing mockumentary that will make you laugh out loud and leave you disgusted with the fact that you did.
Man Bites Dog: A