From the Archives: The Message of The Green Inferno Revisited

From the Archives: The Message of The Green Inferno Revisited

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

A while back I wrote a blog about the intentions of Eli Roth’s latest film, The Green Inferno, in which I explored the initial marketing campaign from 2013 and how it compares to its current campaign in 2015. It would appear that in the months approaching the 2015 release, the film took the form of a satire about activism. This re-branding is supported by Roth himself who is very vocal about the “anti-SJW” message. In my previous piece, I questioned whether or not this was the initial intention of the film when it was shot, or if it was a trendy way to re-brand a 2013 film for 2015 audiences. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I would like to weigh in on this again. It pleases me to say that The Green Inferno makes good on the promise of both the 2013 and 2015 ad campaigns. As a love-letter to the cannibal films of yore, it works. As a scathing indictment of uninformed activism, it works. The dual intentions bolster one another as well, resulting in a product that is genuinely terrifying, gleefully gruesome, and worthy of conversation … just like Cannibal Holocaust.

The Green Inferno tells the story of a group of college-aged activists who find themselves in over their heads on the way home from a successful, albeit dangerous, action. The group had chained themselves to trees and bulldozers to prevent the development of an area of jungle which serves as the home of multiple indigent tribes. After stopping the encroaching workers, the plane carrying them home crashes, and they find themselves at the mercy of one of the tribes they’ve “saved.” Unfortunately for for our heroes(?), this particular tribe likes to eat people.

The most reactive amongst us will condemn the film for depicting this tribe as savages, but those of us who seek nuance (and can stomach some truly gruesome stuff) will see a moral tale indicating quite the opposite. At no point do any of the activists at the heart of the story regard the members of the tribe as people, and it’s this that causes their downfall. To them, these people are merely an image, a form of bait through which to draw eyes to their activist causes, and more importantly, to themselves. The cannibals are not necessarily the villains here, but rather a group of people with a different way of life (yes, functionally they are the villains of the story, what with the eating of people and all, but they are not necessarily evil – just different). It is only through a shared humanity that any of the captives gain traction against their dire circumstances.

Smartly, Roth’s script doesn’t broadly condemn activism, not even a little. Instead, it focuses on the intentions of the activists, questioning whether they want to help, or just to look like they’re helping. As we learn more about their mission, it becomes pretty clear that, for a few of the characters at least, their altruism is false. I’d like to avoid spoilers, but I will note that it takes the entire runtime for the message to clarify itself, which suggests a rather even-handed script, devoid of finger pointing. Not all of these activists are bad, but the road to the dinner table is paved with good intentions. The Green Inferno doesn’t endorse inaction, but it does plainly state that activism should always come after research. If anything, Roth’s film is pro-activist, with a caveat that “should we?” takes precedent over “could we?”

TGI-postI believe my initial question has been answered. Based on the content of the film, I think that the satirization of “slacktivism” is one of the original intentions, and not just a present-day tie-in to a few popular buzzphrases. But now I have a new question: if The Green Inferno had come out in 2013, would we be discussing it at all?

I’m curious as to how this film feels to someone unfamiliar with Roth’s work/image. If this is you and you’ve seen the film, post a comment. I’d love to discuss it.

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