When I was younger I happened to come across Ravenous when it was being broadcast on Greek TV on two separate occasions. The first time I must have been in high school and the second time I think I was on the 2nd year of uni. In both occasions something happened and I wasn’t able to watch it until the end. Having finally seen the entire film I concluded that it deserves a place in my list of favorite -weird-underrated films.
Ravenous was originally meant to be directed by Milco Mancevski but he left the production for some reason when they had already started shooting . He was replaced by another director who also left ; Then that director was replaced by Antonia Bird who fortunately didn’t leave. I have no idea why this happened but I am glad because Antonia Bird did an awesome job in my opinion. Of course it helped that she had Robert Carlyle and a really good script – in my opinion.
The film is set during the American-Mexican war and the main character is Lieutenant Boyd ( Guy Pearce) who gets transferred to a remote outpost in Sierra Nevada called Fort Spencer. This transfer is a punishment imposed by one of his superiors for a cowardly act in the beginning of the film. The other residents of Fort Spencer are already bored out of their minds when Boyd arrives. Unfortunately for them things are about to get interesting; An exhausted stranger collapses at their door and they help him, unaware of the fact that he is a very, very special man.
Anyway, I don’t want to spoil this but the story is about cannibals. And of course it is a huge metaphor about imperialism and the endless hunger for power that comes with it. The character that Robert Carlyle portrays pretty much spells it out for the audience when he makes a speech about Manifest Destiny, a 19th century term which expressed the belief that the United States was destined to expand across the continent (thank you, wikipedia). The villain of the story- the cannibal ( still trying to avoid spoilers) seems to be the embodiment of such an idea. Eating human flesh makes him stronger and he continues doing it without any restraint. The more he consumes the more he needs to consume. He is also a man of authority- or at least he claims to be. He is cunning and seductive, a man who would thrive as a politician.
However, he has no interest in the patriotic feelings of his fellow Americans- he only has one need: To satisfy his hunger. He is an outsider and a predator.
‘You know, come April, thousands of gold-hungry Americans will cross over those mountains, on their way to new lives, passing right through …here’
Whether he sympathises or not with the gold-hungry Americans he is waiting for them and he plans to get what he wants from them. He is a character who follows his own desires, an unpredictable force that cannot be contained. His name is also reminiscent of a politician of that time who opposed the idea of Manifest Destiny- although that might be purely coincidental.
Then there is the hero of the story who is initially presented as a lucky- or unlucky depending on how you see it- coward. He has a strong moral code which- as it is socially correct- does not allow him to eat human flesh. He is naturally against killing people to satisfy one’s needs but he also takes it one step further : He refuses to do it even in life threatening situations. He is portrayed as a coward, yet he comes across as a brave man in certain moments. He is unwilling to kill people in order to gain more power yet as a soldier he is forced to kill people for the sake of his country’s glory. He seems to refuse to acknowledge the fact that his survival rests upon the demise of others either way.
The interaction between the two main characters is quite interesting. The characters portrayed by Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce seem to be polar opposites. Carlyle’s character is powerful and imposing while Guy Pearce’s character comes across as frail and passive. The two actors have a nice dynamic and their performance makes the relationship between the two characters even more powerful. It is hard to spot a bad performance in the film, or find a character which is not unique in a quirky way. All the Fort Spencer characters are interesting -and damaged in their own special way.
One last thing I have to mention is the music, which is composed by Damon Albarn and Michael Nyman. The soundtrack is exactly what you wouldn’t expect to listen in a period film and it perfectly fits the story. It is mysterious, unsettling, upli
fting at inappropriate parts and generally weird and absolutely great. Ravenous cannot fit into one genre, and the music is there to remind the viewer. No one expects an uplifting, cartoonish tune when a crazy cannibal is chasing around the rest of the characters in order to kill them and eat their flesh. I love that part.
Since it is getting late and my bed is calling me I will stop here and go dream about cannibals. If you are the kind of person that is looking for something creepy, funny and interesting to watch give Ravenous a shot. It can also be suitable for mainstream audiences. I tested it on friends and they are still talking to me, so don’t worry about that.