Friday, August 06, 2010

A story of the first time I passed out

It happened last night. And it didn’t happen quite like you’d expect. Innocently enough, it started with a movie review.

I love movies. Love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em. When I get on my feet again, my first project for me is to build a display for my movie collection (such that it is nowadays) that resembles a video rental place. A rickety shelf lined with movies, with a small bar-like counter in front, with a small TV, plus other things you’d likely find at a video store, like a candy or popcorn display.

Anyway. I’m reading this review for an upcoming film, titled simply enough, “A Serbian Film.” I’d heard about this film in a number of horror film circles, namely because there were scenes, one in particular, that put the film on par with “realism horror” (my term) like “Cannibal Holocaust,” “Irreversible,” the like. Not stupid “torture porn” (their term) like “Hostel,” or “Saw,” because if you’re in a theater and see things like you see in “Holocaust” and “Irreversible,” no one hoots and hollers appreciatively like they do in “Hostel” and “Saw.” There’s your fucking difference.

The reviews of “Serbian” were very sketchy with details, but suffice to say they hinted at a very snuff-like feel to the film, like you’re watching people get as close to dying for real on film. In something like “Hostel,” again, you see pretty people further prettied up with make-up, on pristine film, enduring physical horrors in situations that are only remotely likely to occur. Apparently, in “Serbian,” it’s gritty, grimy, and grounded in a realm not far removed from a reality that some of us could find ourselves in, if enough factors in our lives – present, past, and future – fell into place in different ways.

But every review references, no matter how remotely, one particular scene. Being human, my curiosity naturally piqued, I used the internet resources to seek out means to uncover this mystery. I may love movies, but I don’t see every single one of them so I could afford to know what’s going on in one relatively obscure to the mainstream public foreign film, and my life would be no less ruined.


Spoiler to the film “A Serbian Film” rests in the following paragraph. Skip past the lines below if you want to avoid this. However, not knowing the spoiler could affect your reading this post in a very small way.

Apparently, the scene that stands out in this film – amongst those of pornography, rape, torture, human subjugation, and degradation of both the self and others by many characters in the film – involves the murder-by-rape of a newborn child. And, as an aside, that this film comes out the same year as the film “Human Centipede” is a curious phenomenon, because the subject matter and presentation of the material in “Centipede” is no less graphic nor horrific than “Serbian,” yet the fantastical component of the former seems to make its story more palpable to the sensibilities of people seeking escapist fare.

Commentary from the public at large in internet forums I frequented to learn this information was … sorry, but “interesting” is the best I can come up with. Of course, there was righteous moral outrage expressed, as well as the “art vs. obscenity” argument that always seems to come up when films like this show up on the usual circuits. Most curious, though, was an argument that I perused about the media of film now becoming a mark of some personal tag of bravery. I’d seen this sort of discussion before in a different forum, in reference to the Italian cannibal and zombie genres that are known from some quite graphic depictions. Most notably, I remember reading a statement about the aforementioned “Cannibal Holocaust” being a film that’s not so much watched, as endured. I’ve since seen “Holocaust,” and while disturbing, I was nonplussed at the shock some were expressing at scenes that, while graphic and at times horrific, yes, had me neither covering my eyes in fear nor heading to the bathroom in nausea.

The inevitable connection of this discussion to the internet entered in, and one of the most popular internet memes to come along in the past several years – “2 Girls 1 Cup” – was addressed. If you haven’t seen “2 Girls 1 Cup,” I will tell you, I have, and it’s pretty gross, pretty vile, but once the shock of what you’re actually seeing occurs, you can actually laugh the whole thing off. Summary: It’s the story of two girls and their undying love for a Wendy’s Frosty.

But the popular thing lately has been for various people across the country to film people watching this shocking mess. Into this discussion came an anonymous individual that – again, referring to “A Serbian Film” – stated that they’ve seen many things worse than what was in “Serbian,” listing a number of different “films,” like “2 Girls,” and then one video that made me curious enough to look up the name. It’s this video that leads me into this whole issue.

I’m not going to post the name of the film, as it’s being referenced online. I will state that the video referenced by the individual in this discussion was directly linked to the 2007 murders in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. You can look up the actual details on your own; the short form is, three young men were charged with twenty-one murders in that community, some of which they recorded and posted the videos online.

Reading about one of the videos from the Dnepropetrovsk murderers that was posted and spoken of most frequently, I meandered into another discussion about the merits of making the video a police training/tutorial tool, in some way to study criminal minds and methods, much like the Ted Bundy and Charles Manson interviews are looked at today in a similar fashion. But make no mistake, the content of said video, in every forum I ventured into, noted that the video was disturbing; I even read, on more than one occasion, that anyone viewing said video cannot “unsee” what you view in the video, no matter how hard you want to. Being a clinical psychologist, I know what that is: It’s PTSD. Ok, here’s a video that’s being mentioned in the same sentence as “2 Girls 1 Cup,” which is by no means traumatizing to me (except I’m pretty wary of chocolate milk shakes nowadays), and I’ve sat through numerous autopsy videos during my attempt at a triple major involving criminology, so I figured that, like the gusto that got me to look up the spoiler of “A Serbian Film,” I’d satisfy this new curiosity.


Below this line is a description, in detail, of the video’s contents and my own personal interpretations and analysis. As of this very writing, I don’t know how detailed it may be, nor how graphic it may be considered. Please know that I mean no psychological harm in posting this, but I do hope that it helps, well, me in this obvious cathartic attempt to reconcile last night’s events, but also to someone reading this who may find their own curiosity ignited and may want to pursue this viewing experience, I can only advise, “Do not,” because reading about something is considerably less damaging than actually seeing that same thing (think novels vs. film adaptations) and besides, seriously, here there be some fucking dragons.

The video immediately begins with a disturbing image: An individual (male) downed by some method of assault that apparently has occurred prior to the camera being turned on. He’s in obvious distress, confused; his speaking a language I don’t understand makes it difficult to determine if he’s speaking out for help or has been stricken unintelligible by surprise or physical damage.

A figure enters in from the left with a large yellow object (later revealed to be a hammer) and strikes the victim in the head with the object several times, severely. The camera pans away from the scene for a minute, and immediately I reflect on the juxtaposition of this scene, with that of the times at play that I have with my daughter when she takes a fifty ticket inflatable hammer won from Chuck E. Cheese and hits me on my head.

The camera swiftly pans back to the victim, who is now covered in blood. Immediately, I’m shocked, but I’ve been desensitized to bloody faces and foreheads by over twenty years of watching professional wrestling. I’m not even joking when I say that. A second person (male) walks in from the left, doing something around the abdominal area of the victim; the camera work is so shaky that it’s hard to tell what’s happening, and the camera operator panning and zooming over the victim’s face. Finally, the camera pans to the abdominal area, and, while the perpetrators are carrying out their actions, it hits me, the sound coming from the victim, of gasping, moaning, rattling, whining, wailing. The sound of dying.

The other individual is shown taking a pointed object (named in the case of these murderers as having been a screwdriver) and stabbing the victim in the stomach, not fast like you would see in an action film, but slowly, methodically, deeply for maximum damage or torture. The camera operator now takes a turn at the victim, sticking a screwdriver into his abdomen, also slowly, also methodically, but instead of fully withdrawing the weapon, he inserts it repeatedly in a circular pattern. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a similar method you would take if you took a knife to peel an orange, and you worked the blade back and forth between the skin and the pulp, severing the connections between the two. During this, the murderers are exchanging banter, laughing.

The victim writhes on the ground. The camera operator lingers on his wounds, first on his abdomen, then pans to his face. The victim – later identified as a forty-eight year old man who had survived a diagnosis of terminal cancer – is now gushing blood profusely from his facial cavities. I use that term because what appears before me no longer represents a human mouth or nose, but only exist as reminders now of what they once were. Other inexplicable fluids are there, and I think this is where I got physically ill; queasy, but not close to throwing up or whatever people were saying in discussions I’d frequented previously. And still, that sound, the gurgling, the guttural attempts to (cry for help?) (beg for mercy?) (pray?) (or just brain-damaged grunting?) (what?)

The camera operator takes a step back, and the camera pans up quickly to one of the perpetrators; he’s smiling, laughing. He could be playing baseball, or having a water-gun fight with family, or throwing a Frisbee to his dog if the scene were juxtaposed into any other setting than this. The camera operator steps back a bit, and the perpetrator having just been revealed mounts his foot on the victim’s chest, like a hunter who’s claimed a kill, or a gladiator who’s defeated a valiant opponent; it appears at one point as if the murderer is standing with his full weight on the victim’s chest, but this is hard to determine, due to the camera shaking with each chuckle from its operator and the lack of any change in the vocal distress from the victim. At this point, somewhere, I notice a pounding in my head, and the queasy feeling in my stomach increases just slightly. I’m at once hot and cold. I’ve felt like that when I’ve been feverish from illness, but I’m not sick. My thoughts are on one thousand different things, from righteous moral outrage, to a self-challenging inquest into my own issues of free speech versus the censoring of presentations of this nature to prevent dissemination to vulnerable minded individuals, to a Hollywood-inspired desire to see the victim pull a gun from his pocket and exact swift and equal vengeance on his attackers, to selfish, individual thoughts and fears about the community I live in, for the family I live with, my wife, and my daughter.

The camera operator moves back in, physically, to the victim’s head. He takes the screwdriver and wipes away blood from the wounds made from the hammer; you can see very distinct imprints from the tool, circular hematomas developing under the skin from even more blood that is desperately seeking egress, and indentation marks denoting penetration into the cranium. The camera operator positions the screwdriver close to an area on the victim’s skull, and he slowly, effortlessly pushes the screwdriver into an area of the forehead, piercing tissue and bone with an ease that, my brain tells me, just should not be.

Having viewed an indeterminate (to this point) amount of the video, I noticed that my headache – one that I live with every day since an auto accident almost a year ago, one that gets compounded by some of the most meager of stimuli – had exacerbated, and I attributed this to the eye strain I had acquired from watching the video, with its perpetual movement, its rapid contrast from blurriness to sudden, sharp definition, and the wide zooms and tight close-ups. I put my hand over my eyes, to give them a rest as the video continued to play.

I opened my eyes again, and I was remarkably taken aback by the scene that was before me now. The video was still playing; I could hear it, but I couldn’t see it. It was on the computer desk far above where I was laying. Laying, I said to myself slowly, almost audibly, no longer sitting in the chair that was now laying just slightly on top of me. I was in a very unusual state of mind; I was clear-headed, alert, but dazed, uncertain of what had just happened.

All around me was calamity, albeit on a scale infinitesimal to a more global perspective. Books that were previously neatly stacked beside the computer were now flung to the ground in a state of disorder. Movies and CDs that were nearby from earlier casual and careless placement were now accompanying me on the floor, around me, underneath me. I was laying in an unusual posture, as one arm was trapped under my torso in a peculiar position, and my upper torso and head rested stiffly against a durable toolbox that sits nearby.

Immediately the gravity of this situation alarmed me. I’m by myself, at this time; my family is off enjoying a visit with extended family to a nearby beach, while I have obligations that require me to stay sharp and updated on my upcoming employment – my first since February – as well as take care of the house in their absence. Realizing that I must have passed out – I sure as shit don’t remember any point where I fell to the ground – it occurred that, if I’d done any major damage, there’s no one around to help.

I took my time rising to a seated position, now very alarmed by my situation. I cognitively scanned everything about myself that I could. I had no idea if I’d hit my head, had a stroke, a heart attack, or God only knows what else. I did a quick ABC run in my head, then out loud, then backwards. I counted to 25, then recalled to my satisfaction various representatives of the last three generations of my family. I recited my address, telephone number, city, state and zip code. I identified colors of things that laid before me.

I did a simultaneous physical assessment of myself. And I hurt, and I state this now in both present and past tense. I could feel a pulsation under my right eye, and my back and neck were suspiciously aching. My nose was running, I told myself from an allergy medicine (“non-drowsy formula,” incidentally) that I’d taken hours prior for some impending congestion I’d noticed earlier in the day. I ran a finger through my mouth and was very pleased to find that all the teeth were where they should be.

To one knee now, I briefly surveyed the situation, now from an angle that was deceptively far removed from the perspective I had previously. Still somewhat dazed, and lightheaded, I looked at the computer desk where I had previously sat, in a chair that was now on its side, in the floor. Junk and stuff that had been assembled near the computer for various states of access had been clearly swept wholesale from the counter of the desk to the floor. I surmised that I must have fallen forward, perhaps even hitting my head on the desk, then slumped off and into the floor. There were things that had fallen or had been rearranged that are even now somewhat inexplicable for their new positioning; I chalked this up, not to a fugue-like destruction of my working area, such that it is, but to issues of impact, balance, and kinetic versus potential energies.

On the monitor before me, the video depiction of a murder in progress still played. I snapped back to high alert now, and I made it a point to not look at the actual images playing. The sounds were enough. I frantically searched for the mouse, now dangling precipitously over the edge of the desk from where it had sat just earlier. A brief aside for this next point: I’m a very literal thinker, and while I never profess, ever, to be the smartest person in any room, I do acknowledge that I think very quickly. So, as soon as I thought to myself, “The mouse was sitting on the desk earlier,” that final word had not even really form cohesively before the next thought was born: “How much earlier?”

Still groping for the mouse, I looked at the video one last time, very specifically at the time display. For as long as it’s taken to write about these events, and factoring in the time that it may take to read about these events, understand that as specifically as they occurred, they occurred quickly. Noticing the time on the video display, and factoring in even the maximum amount of time I could allot to my steady return to consciousness, I calculated a rough estimate of my time in the nebula of unawareness.

Three minutes.

With the mouse, I blindly guided the pointer to the appropriate buttons on the screen, closing windows and stopping programs and blankly doing a quick check of computer properties and cutting my computer off for good, for the evening. I figured I would run a virus check in the morning – this morning – because if that thing had affected me like it did, who’s for certain what the hell it was doing to my computer? Ran the antivirus when I got up today; clean bill of health.
With those events behind me, I made my way to my feet and staggered more than I care to admit into the bathroom. What stood before me in the mirror was a stranger. My eyes were glossy, blankly staring back at my own image. A bruise, prominent in hue if not in size, was under my right eye. My “runny nose” was actually a bleeding nose, and I became immediately queasy again as my brain made a rapid, involuntary parallel between the blood on my face and that of the victim in the video. My face was long, morose in countenance; I looked almost ten years older.

I cleaned myself off, and I collapsed into bed. My mind reeled at what had happened, and I tried to put everything together, to make sense of a situation that had just been rendered nonsensical to me. I reflected on the veil of safety and security that I wrap myself and my loved ones in every day, and I cautiously challenged the authenticity of those feelings and how they comprise my roles as a man, a son, a husband, and a father. I confronted myself on being weak, a pussy, that couldn’t take watching a simple video; I’ve seen “Faces of Death” and films of that ilk, and I’ve seen uncensored surgical videos that are far more graphic than those shown on the Discovery Channel, so I can say that I’ve tested my tolerance to those things and won, so why lose out now? I subsequently chided myself for not turning of the video earlier, which inevitably turned into admonishment for having ignored obvious warnings and seeing the video in the first place. I tried to comfort myself in the knowledge that justice had been meted out, as the murderers were arrested, tried, and convicted to life sentences. I even began to grossly criticize my own interests in things like horror movies, violent videogames, and even professional wrestling, and I only sparingly satisfied myself with the reassurance that I was and have always been stable of mind enough to recognize the difference between entertainment and reality, and that this event simply reinforced that.

After trying to compartmentalize the situation in almost every way that I could, I simply determined that my brain shut me down, when it believed that I had become overloaded by a stimulus so noxious, so threatening to my sensibilities, that it needed to protect me in the best way it could, in the situation as it was. Having been in many, many “fight-or-flight” situations in my past, I know that I’ve held myself together enough to get through those events, but that only makes the fact that an emotional stimulus in extreme was needed for me to physically and cognitively just, disappear, like I had, almost incomprehensible.

The last thought I remember before sleep overpowered me was that I had just glimpsed through a window into Hell.

So no, I don’t think I’ll be watching “A Serbian Film” any time soon. Like, ever.


Ron said...

Welcome back, by the way.

Rev. Joshua said...

I tried watching that same video, as part of my general quest to see every fucked up thing on the Internet (that won't get me arrested). I've seen quite a bit of filth and depravity, including the video of journalist Daniel Pearl (I think it was Pearl) being beheaded, and I could only make it through a few moments of this before I cut it off. Just too much...

Obviously, fainting while watching that is serious business, but I couldn't help but chuckle when you decided to run an anti-virus scan on the PC. Hope you're feeling better about that now.

Nate said...

My priorities were in the right place, I believe. Hey, there wasn't anything I could do to help, so the least I could do was look out for mines.

Was that video not totally fucked up, though? I'd seen the Pearl video too, and I suppose what made the difference here was that there was sound, because I think the Pearl video (at least what I saw) was soundless.

Also, looking back on this event with a week's worth of hindsight, it very well could have been all the motion going on in the video, whilst I sat static in this computer chair. I've noticed that lately I've become prone to nausea and dizziness in long drives, and they never did find out the depths and breadths of my "brain damage" from my accident.