Any movie that features a man shooting a four-foot-long stream of fire out of his penis within its first minute is going to be pretty different. This event sets the pseudo-surreal tone of Taxidermia pretty succinctly, leaving us anxious to see what other weird stuff is in store for us. Director György Pálfi’s latest feature is hard to adequately describe, save for the one unifying theme of absolute disgust with and disdain for humankind. Every character, without exception, is seen at his or her respective physical nadir.
Taxidermia’s narrative is held together by a lineage of ignoble men in Hungary. The first, the aforementioned pyrosexual malcontent, Vendel Morosgoványi (Csaba Czene), is an orderly in the Hungarian Army during WWII. His entire existence revolves around wanting to have sex with something, regardless of whether that something happens to be male, female, or even human. His degradation is palpable and totally uncomfortable to watch, and by the time of his early departure from the film we’re left wondering what exactly Pálfi’s point was in disallowing this character even the tiniest shred of human dignity. The only inference I could make after taking in the excruciatingly gross actions of Morosgoványi is that Pálfi despises human sexuality.
Morosgoványi’s progeny, in turn, represent other elements of human behavior and nature that Pálfi apparently finds distasteful. His illegitimate son, adopted by a superior officer in the army, grows up to be a prime competitor on Hungary’s national speed-eating team. Sequences of CGI-enhanced vomiting abound, immediately following the repulsive man’s ingestion of unbelievable portions of foods ranging from gruel to horsemeat aspic. Embedded in the various Eastern European speed-eating division competitions the son, Kálmán Balatony (Gergely Trócsányi), enters is a tacit critique of Communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular. Balatony, striving his entire life for greatness through gluttony, represents for Pálfi the inherent futility of human endeavor. His quest for greatness in such a grotesque arena becomes a showcase for the director’s most basic sentiments of loathing for humanity and its pride.
Balatony’s son, Lajoska (Marc Bischoff), by contrast, is rail thin — almost skeletal, really. This final male in the disordered line constitutes the most effective typological symbol for Páfli to use in unleashing the full breadth of his abhorrence for the body. Lajoska, a taxidermist, keeps himself busy stuffing animals and tending to his now absurdly obese father. His perfectionism is inherently diseased, and Pálfi doesn’t pull any punches in his treatment of Lajoska, proudly displaying a particular vitriol for human attempts at bettering themselves. In Taxidermia, human beings are incapable of being good specifically because of their physical being and how necessarily base they are.
Visually, the film firmly roots itself in some of the more interesting traditions of Western art. Imagine Francis Bacon inventing a time machine to arrange an asexual breeding experiment with Matthew Barney and you’ll begin to grasp Pálfi’s aesthetic. The camera work and Pálfi’s manipulation of his mise en scène are so brilliant and gorgeous at times that they manage to make the vomitrocious subject matter less painful to sit through.
Taxidermia is a beautifully shot film that obsesses over what is worst in people. Pálfi's lament at humankind’s inability to separate itself from its animal nature is intriguing on the surface, but it hardly illuminates anything that didn't already come up in Augustine’s fourth-century Confessions. But the film also makes it apparent that, for Pálfi, at least, human beings are beyond redemption, and anything noble in human life is ultimately trumped by the sickening reality of the disguting shell that our ghostly spirits must inhabit. If anyone out there has been waiting for a resurgence of Albigensianism, they may have found their man.