On a simple level, I sometimes consider my mind to be very much like Father Dougal’s in Father Ted – all bunny rabbits hopping about and little else. In more realistic terms, this equates to looking for the light and optimism in everyday situations, seeking out profundity where there is probably nothing in the slightest bit profound, trying to grasp the complexities and awkward frustrations forced upon us by the world, and generally blundering onward with a certain amount of naivety for 95% of the time.
Darker recesses of my psyche remain largely untouched, partly though an unwillingness to consider the infliction of distress or misery on anyone or anything, and partly thanks to a relatively sheltered existence with no exposure to the harshest realities of life and society. I have a friend who is a police officer, and some of the things he tells me are simply unfathomable, in no way equating to the world I know and understand.
Trivially, then, the only episode I can offer as experience of the day I first truly exposed my mind (culturally, if you can call it culture…) to the cruel and unusual things a human brain is able to conjure as thought, is the day I elected to see the first Saw film in 2004.
The intriguing premise of the story blinded me to the horror and torture aspects of the script and I went in unappreciative of the content I was going to witness. The closest to a horror movie I’d come previously was Event Horizon, but science fiction at its most fictitious is hard to take seriously. The grim faux-reality in which Saw was based played havoc with my world-view for a couple of weeks (including affecting my sleep!), and gradually I developed a morbid curiosity with the film.
I’ve seen none of the subsequent follow-ups, and haven’t even watched the first one again. I have, however, meticulously read the plotlines to each and every instalment, and could give you a pretty decent rundown of the entire franchise, including most of the characters and traps! Ironically though, as more and more sequels have been unleashed on cinemas and with ever-more outlandish plots and contraptions, so the impact of the original has been diluted.
Why this fascination with something that bothered me so much, even if it doesn’t do so now? A desire to understand how someone dreams up such stories, or perhaps a need to test myself and see what extremes my naïve disposition is willing to tolerate?
It hasn’t stopped with the Saw franchise either – despite having no desire to watch them, I’ve read all about such delights as the Hostel series, The Human Centipede, A Serbian Film, The Collector, the I Spit On Your Grave remake, Wolf Creek and others. I don’t recommend looking any of these films up, even to read the storylines, unless you particularly enjoy the genre. Most of them aren’t even good films by all account, they simply possess notoriety and that is how they come to my attention.
Unpleasant though some of the concepts involved may be, the fact that they are all “only films” somehow makes those concepts easier to accept in the long run. Certainly, the incidents my police officer friend relates are far harder to accept because they involve actual people doing actual things that affect actual lives. Talking to him is like watching the news, only more difficult because the news doesn’t report most of what goes on, and certainly doesn’t include the details I get offered. How he does his job is beyond me.
There is a story that straddles many of these themes, albeit to differing extents: that of Aron Ralston, most recently told in the Danny Boyle film 127 Hours, adapted from Ralston’s autobiography. Consider yourself warned about spoilers if you are unfamiliar with the course of events, in which Ralston becomes trapped under a rock and eventually has to amputate his own arm in order to get free. A part of me wanted to see Boyle’s film, but a combination of unavailable time and uncertainty as to how easily I could take watching the amputation scene meant I never got round to it.
Because of this, during a recent visit to Waterstones, Ralston’s autobiography caught my eye and I began browsing a copy. Needless to say, I skipped right through to the ‘moment’ near the end of the book, but am ashamed to report that I chickened out after barely a few sentences. Talk of infection spreading up the arm – then mentions of knives, blood and cutting through bits of muscle – did for my composure completely, forcing me to return the book to the shelf. I smiled a knowing smile at my lack of tolerance for such things and continued round the shop, bits of me tense and clenched in a severe wince like someone had put a hot poker up my backside.
It is difficult to know what to reflect on more – the hypothetical ‘what would you do in that situation?’, or the sheer ridiculousness of my squeamishness (especially having only read fractions of sentences) before the rest of my brain said, “Give up.” Perhaps the latter reaction provides the answer to the former; all I can say is it’s a good job I’m not a character in a horror movie. Or, indeed, a real life police officer.