Movie: A Certain Kind of Death

9 05 2008

Imdb info here.

I imagine a number of existentialist writers would consider this a great, great film. It’s a documentary about the search for next-of-kin and postmortem processes for the unclaimed dead of Los Angeles.

Probably the trickiest and most effective structural device in the film is the complete absence of what we have come to expect from documentaries–narration and expository titles. The “story” of the film (if one could call it that) is told in the words and wordless actions of the government officials who deal with the “decendents“. It heightens the creepy factor quite a bit.

And there’s plenty of that creepy stuff. Within the first 15 minutes of the film, we are treated to two scenes of mildly-decomposed dead persons with blackened skin, twisted faces, and long toenails. These disturbing scenes drive home the element of voyeurism in the film, more than the voyeurism somewhat inherent in documentaries; we’re not watching some carefully constructed plastic woman pull out her tits or watching an honest family disintegrate. Instead, we’re peering across the void at the aftermath of what many consider the worst kind of death–a lonely one.

(This is why the existentialists would love it–these people had no choice but to face death on their own.)

Some indicative quotes from the film, probably paraphrased:

“The maggots have got pretty much all of his face… looks like he’s been dead about 3 weeks.”

“And what would you like to harvest?”

“He appears to have suffered rectal bleeding.”

“Smells like body odor.”

More concretely: I’ve discovered that no matter who handles your after-death affairs, they nickel and dime you for tons of shit. Death certificates (in L.A. County, anyway) are $10 apiece. Cremation (done when there is no pre-need or family to decide on a burial method) is over $500; both of these fees are paid out of the estate of the deceased. Perhaps even more creepy than the dead bodies, the film shows the unclaimed estates being auctioned off in a large warehouse. It’s a true auction, with the interminable gibberish of an auctioneer; it made for a genuinely unusual juxtaposition.

Other fun facts: You are exsanguinated before you’re cremated. You’re also taped into a cardboard box. Why the box? Easier loading…? Seems like a waste.

The film is well done, but a lot of people will have a hard time watching it. If you’re visiting a blog called “baby eater”, you’re probably good. Go watch it when you need to feel morbid for an hour or so.

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