Star Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Criterion collection has always baffled me. On the one hand the collection is made up of some of the best movies to ever be made that some might label “arthouse films” while on the other hand we have movies like Godzilla, The Blob, or Scanners; movies that, while being classics, are far from being considered among the top movies ever being made. I might never completely understand what criteria are used in selecting movies for the collection, but I do understand its importance within the cinephile community. Up until this point, I have had very little experience with the movies in its collection. In fact, all of my experience with Criterion movies has been with what I would consider “mainstream movies” like Brazil, Mulholland Dr., Being John Malkovich, or Inside Llewyn Davis.
Man Bites Dog has a simple premise. A documentary crew follows a serial kill over an undisclosed period of time. As the crew follows this serial killer they gradually become more and more involved with his plans. A movie with such a simple premise needs to take the time flesh out its characters, and because this is a “documentary” there is only one “real” character that the audience needs to become familiar with, and that’s Ben (the serial killer). While the documentary crew members have minor roles in the movie itself and it may seem unnecessary to develop their characters, Man Bites Dog does it to make the movie feel more realistic.
The movie follows a clever structure. We are introduced to Ben as he is tying weights to bodies and throwing them into a quarry that has been flooding and explaining how many weights each different body type needs. This establishes that Ben is a serial killer. Following this scene, Ben explains to the documentary crew how he plans each of his killings. The movie then spends time introducing you to all of the important people in his life (some knowing he is a serial killer, and others not knowing) and showing you how Ben lives his life. All of these scenes are put in in order to humanize Ben. It is to remind the audience that behind that gun is a man, and by the end of the movie you realize Ben (as a character) is designed to almost be an everyman. He has his qualms with the government. He loves his mom and grandparents. He has his irritations. He has a woman he loves. He has friends. He even views his killings as as job since he uses that as his source of income. The movie never explains why Ben is a serial killer, and after it ends one can only assume that it is simply his way of making money and nothing more. He has an honor system that he mostly strictly follows.
As the movie progresses, the documentary crew gets more and more involved with his killings. Two of their sound men die. They each help Ben get rid of bodies. They drive him around to the various locations. And its all “for the movie” they are making. Gradually, Ben uses his charm and pseudo-friendship to convince them each to do things thy might otherwise not do, if it wasn’t for their movie. Which makes the point that no one is incapable of doing something reprehensible.
The movie itself explores themes of good and evil and whether there is really a grey line in between the two. It also shows that some people, regardless of their actions, are still people. They still have relationships and people that they care about. I don’t think this is meant to make Ben less evil, instead it is meant to put a face and perspective on the evil that happens.
Star Rating: 4 out of 5
Dollar Rating: $7.99 (to watch it on Hulu Plus)