Carnage: Hard to Swallow23rd March 2017
This article contains reference to sexual acts and animal abuse, and graphic images.
Carnage inspires laughter, disbelief and disgust. If you hate vegans, you will love it. If you are a vegan, you’ll love it even more.
The year is 2067. No one is a vegan – but no one consumes animal products anymore. In this future universe painted by Simon Amstell, society is no longer split between vegans and “normal people”, but “normal people” and carnists. By subverting the norm in this way, Amstell creates humour in mocking the melodramatic horror of the vegans at what is today the regular consumption of meat, but also hints at what could – or should – be society’s attitude towards animal agriculture.
“The safety net of deliberate division from reality present in a horror film – the comforting words “it’s not real” – does not apply here”
The film opens on the idyllic setting of a group of androgynous teens, gamboling youthfully in a field together. The stock-photo laughter and barefoot hippy feel of the scene plays up to the current stereotype of vegans, and pokes fun at the idealistic nature of the vegan vision. Yet the humour in this scene is dramatically undercut once the film begins to dissect the reality of the current animal industry. By lulling the audience into a false sense of security with this laughable illustration of a vegan utopia, closely followed by a scene showing elderly people receiving counselling to come to terms with their previous carnist lifestyles, Amstell renders the viewer unprepared for what is to follow.
He reveals the subconscious techniques of today’s advertising, by pointing out the lies relating to free range and ‘happy farming’ told by the animal industry through a suitably neutral voiceover. The film shows televised advert upon televised advert of white-toothed children digging cheerfully into burgers, chicken nuggets, hotdogs, wings, cheese, kebabs and more, until one feels quite nauseous at the excess of greasy food. Among these clips are suddenly and alarmingly interspersed graphic shots of footage taken on farms: a child bites into a cheeseburger, a cow is shot through the head with a bolt gun, chicken sizzles in a deep fat fryer, a man cuts slices from a kebab, and yellow chicks are whizzed in an industrial blender. The variety and pace renders the sickening violence unpredictable and unavoidable: if you came to laugh at veganism, you won’t be laughing anymore.
“If you came to laugh at veganism, you won’t be laughing anymore”
Interestingly, this video-switching technique is one common to horror films. The Babadook (2014) uses quick shifts between familiar cartoons and scenes of horrific violence to unnerve the viewer, and imply the blurring of the boundary between reality and unreality as the images become more and more graphic. The viewer becomes uncertain whether the character is waking or sleeping, seeing or dreaming. But the safety net of deliberate division from reality present in a horror film – the comforting words “it’s not real” – does not apply here. Instead, the reality of our collective actions and the daily, unending torture enacted upon our farm animals is forced home again, and again, and again.
The juxtaposition of these – debatably – very different clips renders the association between them unavoidable. The people of 2067 do not conceive of any difference between drinking a glass of milk and forcefully stimulating a bull’s penis by hand to the point of ejaculation (common practice in the dairy industry, for anyone concerned about the author possessing an excessively vivid imagination). “Why would you kill a baby?” asks a tearful Alex Lawther, having been traumatised by viewing a simulation of people of the past eating deep-fried chicken. Through illustration of association in a third party, the film impresses these associations irremovably upon the mind of the viewer. While it might portray a light-hearted, love-not-war vision of vegans, this film is not without an agenda, and it goes about achieving its end in a brutal and powerful way.
“This film is not without an agenda, and it goes about achieving its end in a brutal and powerful way”
The structure of the film, working from addressing attitudes towards animal farming in the 1960s up to the “present day” of Amstell’s future world, also serves to confuse fact and fiction in the audience’s mind. The timeline seamlessly progresses from the unimaginable truths of the animal industry of the 21st century to forecasts for the future presented as past events. An imagined art installation of the future shows a man dedicating six months of his life to living in a cage with tubes taped to his nipples, and being anally penetrated every third day, to reveal to people on the streets the reality of the dairy industry. This, following on from PETA’s genuine live demonstrations that performed animal tests on people, is wholly believable (my family, for one, had to google to see if this had actually taken place).
Amstell forces us to doubt how we define the boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not, by leading us to question what we have already done, and what we will go on to do.