Man Bites Dog

There were people in the world who were worried that this film exists (I am sure there still are, but its not banned in Sweden anymore as far as I know), perhaps because it has a ridiculous number of brutal murders in it, but more probably because no one shows the slightest bit of remorse for the victims. Following fictional serial killers was controversial with Bonnie and Clyde, was controversial here and I am sure would be as controversial if this film was re-released today. I think what makes films about killers problematic is that the format of the film doesn’t have any time for victims, the film makers, and by implication the audience is as guilty as the murderer of moving on too quickly from the crime. There is no time here to feel remorse, sadness, guilt, because there are so much more important things to be doing, like getting drunk, seeing family, contemplating town planning … and this pisses people off first because they have confused the gravity of someone pretending to get shot with someone actually getting shot but moreso because it says something about our societies obsession with killers. Who makes it onto the cover of Time magazine? The killer or the victim? What is exceptional about Man Bites Dog is that this is all made explicit by its faux documentary style and a film crew which becomes as implicated in the murders which take place as the bona fide murderer. They begin by observing him going about his “work”, for he kills purely for financial gain. The act of observing murder without taking action is in itself abhorrent and this is where the film begins to work on other levels. Having the action take place well after the filming has started we can only imagine the negotiations which must have taken place not only to make the whole venture possible, but in the heads of the film makers to justify their actions. Imagining this puts us in the place of the film makers, can we justify it to ourselves? In effect because we are watching, have we agreed to be entertained by the murderer just as the film makers have? The murderer is entertaining, he is intelligent, eloquent and funny, and whilst he has some pretty awful views he also has some interesting ones. All of this makes it all the more fascinating when he ends lives without a second thought, or if there is a second thought it is to question his “technique”. Is it O.K. to be fascinated? Inevitably the film makers end up helping to commit murders. So using the violence of the film to define a position of outrage towards it is revealed as just a cover up, the argument is: I surely cannot be guilty of finding killers interesting if I am disgusted by their actions. The reality is that murder is big news, and for it to be big news someone died, this is an uncomfortable position to be in, but one easily solved with a nice easy bit of moral outrage rather than the critical introspection that the position deserves.

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