This Is Not an Odd Book Discussion: The Bunny Game

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

I’ve wanted to talk about the movie, The Bunny Game, for a while now but I needed time to come to an understanding with myself as to why I find this film worthy of discussion. It’s a hard movie to watch, an even harder movie to digest and, if one gets derailed by accusations of this film being no more than stylish torture porn, it’s dirty and unsettling. And note that this discussion is full of spoilers, though it’s hard to spoil a film that can be summed up as “trucker tortures prostitute in the desert for several days.”

The Bunny Game struck me as a transgressive piece of cinema that showed a frightening and non-consensual ordeal path/purification ritual more troubling than anything Eli Roth ever brought to the table.  You may think this is going to be a typical torture porn horror movie because some of the marketing leans in this direction.  However this is not torture for the sake of torture, it’s torture with a demented purpose behind it that transcends just the thrill that comes for many when they see a beautiful woman abducted, raped and harmed. I felt this way before I looked up Rodleen Getsic, the protagonist of the film, and found out that she co-wrote this film and based it on an actual abduction she endured. I also read that making this film killed part of her soul, which makes it hard to know if she accomplished what she set out to do when she decided to make this film. She fasted for 40 days beforehand to make herself weak, and she consented to everything that happened to her in this film, from a graphic blowjob (actually more of a face-fuck) to the physical abuse that she endured during the abduction.

The hardest part of this movie for me to stomach was that it was largely script-less, because the implication is that Getsic often had no idea what was going to happen to her next. It was, in a sense, one long, horrible ad lib, which makes it more interesting and infinitely more sickening. The man who plays the trucker is not a professional actor (I believe I read that the director cast him because the actor tried to fight him after claiming he looked at him too long in a parking lot). But the lack of a script meant that Rodleen, a victim of a previous abduction and assault, was potentially being re-victimized even as she consented to all of it beforehand. It also makes one wonder how much anyone can be said to consent to something when they don’t know the details of what is going to happen.

The film, shot in black and white, is visually quite pretty, or maybe arresting, but the cinema quality also made it all the worse, turning all that abuse into visually appealing art. Everything that worked about this film made it all the worse because I did not want to be entertained as I watched this movie.

The film begins with a graphic, unsimulated blow job that is anti-pornographic. Rodleen, the protagonist, is not enjoying herself. She is not moaning with feigned pleasure. Forced to deep throat her john, she pulls back three times to catch her breath, gasping for air and the third time she does this, a wave of misery washes over her face. One gets the feeling she was not acting.  Her reaction shows how nasty her character’s life is and there is no way to see this with a sex positive filter.  She is not empowering herself via sex work.

From that opening scene we are taken through a few days in the prostitute’s life. Bunny lives a life of degrading sexual acts in exchange for enough money to keep her in a nondescript motel room in a nondescript Every City. She spends her time hustling johns, having horrible sex, doing drugs and recovering from it all. Before we are ten minutes in we see her raped when she passes out during a trick and wakes up to find she has been robbed of all her money and her drugs. There is a scene where Bunny sniffs a line of some drug and talks to herself in the mirror, muttering “Yeah, yeah, yeah…” as she psychs herself up to go back out and do more of the same. That, in its way, was the worst scene in the film.

Bunny, wearing platform shoes that had to be a foot tall, wanders a city scape that harbors nothing good or natural. She eats fast food sprawled in front of a wall covered in graffiti, she urinates in an alley in front of a metal fence, right on the concrete. As she wanders the streets, her bleached, straw-like hair in pig-tails, the film flashes to other images, several of her in a natural place, mountains behind her, her brown hair falling in curls, her face, young again as she laughs. Blink and you’ll miss it, but those brief scenes where we see the prostitute in better times, in fresh air in the natural world, are a clue as to what this film’s intent is.

The prostitute, Bunny, finally meets her destiny in the form of a truck driver, called Hog (each are named for the masks they wear during one of the torture scenes). He renders her unconscious, drives her to the desert and spends several days torturing her. She’s unconscious for a while, allowing him time to pull her into his empty trailer, rape her, investigate her body thoroughly, at times snuffling her hair and body like a dog. He then chains her inside the trailer and focuses a camera on her. He forces her to watch her torment, making her relive it as she is actually living it, a particularly cruel bit of meta when one remembers this movie is drawn from Rodleen Getsic’s own experiences.

Hog keeps her in chains, puts a collar around her neck and takes her on walks in the junkyard-like landscape of the desert, at one point forcing her to walk while wearing those insane platforms. He force-feeds her whiskey when she desperately needs water. He completely depersonalizes her by shaving her head, but later brands her as well, taking away one form of identity while giving her another form, one that is more permanent. The brands Hog puts on Bunny’s back resemble infinity signs with tails, but they also look like a bow tied from thin ribbon. Both are apt symbols for this film’s purpose. The torture seems like it lasts forever (this movie is a merciful 76 minutes long – any longer and I think it would have been unwatchable), and the torture is interchangeable with other women we see Hog torture in his own flashbacks. It is interminable and unceasing. But this film also shows that Bunny is being a given a perverse gift.

Bald and slowly divested of her clothing, the end of the movie shows a woman who looks like a slightly better nourished concentration camp victim. She is crouched in the back of the trailer when the door opens and light shines in on her. Naked and near insanity, Bunny runs for it. She runs toward the light. She is a gibbering mess, but the ecstasy is unmistakeable on her face. She desperately wants to live.

The film cuts away and we next see her on a cross. She did not make it to freedom. Hog has caught up to her. She is not restrained. She is not nailed to the cross. She is simply lying atop it with her arms spread, in a Christ-like position. Hog sits near her, not touching her. She hallucinates and sees herself with her healthy face, her brown curly hair, sitting nearby. Her old self burns a book. Her old self puts on a veil. Her old self is watching her self-sacrifice. She is her own Mary Magdalene in this painful vision.

Hog tells her to draw a straw from his fist – if she gets the long straw, she wins. A jittery wraith, she selects a straw. Hog mumbles something in her ear and the ecstasy again shows on her face. She laughs with hysterical delight as he carries her over his shoulder. A man in a white uniform in a white van arrives and Hog carries her to him. They put her in the back of the van and the film ends.

Does Bunny live? Who is the man in the van? I think she lives and but even if she doesn’t, in terms of the purpose of this film, it is unimportant. Taken away from the city into the desert, broken down and depersonalized, she wants to live. She has gone through an extraordinary ordeal, very nearly a vision quest and wants to live. I also thought about this in terms of an extreme purification ritual, with the head-shaving, the starvation, the food and water deprivation.

And if this is a purification ritual, then Bunny lived because there was no sense purifying her if there was only death waiting for her. Purification rituals are to cleanse a person of that which is unclean before a specific life event. I left this film thinking the specific event was life itself. Bunny was cleansed of the drugs in her system, the endless flow of semen into her body, the dirt of the city, the implications of her fried hair and her provocative clothing. Naked, starved and bald she is now ready for life after her ordeal. But even if that white van is representative of death, for the first time Bunny wanted to live. Wanting life is a redemption from the walking death she was experiencing before she was kidnapped. She may never return to being that full-faced, curly-haired, laughing brunette, but just wanting to be her again means she is saved.

I know it’s tempting for many to dismiss this as torture porn wherein the sole purpose is to revel in Bunny’s debasement. But those seeking a disgusting gore-fest will be disappointed. There is no blood. There are no saws or pliers. The blow torch is for use with the brand. No one loses a limb, no toes are cut off, no one is hung upside down with a cut throat and bleeding into a bath. This is not a cartoon of extreme violence like so many other movies that depict torture. This is psychological torture and while equally as horrible as physical torture, it has a different purpose than to titillate, which is why I think so many people were put off by this film. It wasn’t what they expected, and in many ways it was far, far worse.

I do my best to interpret the media I consume in a vacuum. I don’t like to read reviews about books or films until I see them and before I write about them, I prefer not to know too much detail about what others think. But after watching this film I wanted to know more about Rodleen Getsic. Her site is a lot to take in at once and I recommend spending ten minute increments there in the beginning. Evidently after filming The Bunny Game, Getsic slipped on a doormat at a grocery story and landed on her head, causing a catastrophic brain injury, and her site shows her struggle as she recovers and copes. She hasn’t updated her “phonetography” section in a while. I hope she’s okay. And I hope the part of her soul that died when she made The Bunny Game was a part she needed to shed. It’s an uncomfortable feeling realizing that the woman who made this film, a film based on her own experiences, has gone on to experience another ordeal.

This was a hard movie but if you ever watch it, I’d love to hear your take on it. I suspect there are a lot of different opinions, and given the nature of this film, aside from the ones that dismiss this as pointless torture porn, they may all be correct.

Senseless by Stona Fitch

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: Senseless

Author: Stona Fitch

Type of Book: Fiction

Why Did I Read This Book: I don’t recall exactly but I think it was recommended on the LiveJournal community for disturbing books. I know I had it on my Amazon Wishlist for a while and ordered it one day when an affordable copy became available.

Availability: This book is out of print, but you can find used copies online from independent sellers:

Comments: When I first read this book, I thought it would be an excellent choice for my odd books discussion site. While the violence in this book is at times hard to read, ultimately this was not an odd book. This is not torture porn – it is literary fiction and very good fiction at that. The book is gripping and I read it very quickly. Still, as horrible as the violence was, it did not affect me deeply is because this sort of violence is pedestrian these days, unless it’s happening to you. Extremity of human degradation, the lengths some people are willing to go in order to achieve their ends, and the sense that perhaps those who live lives worthy of shame should be held to pay for their actions are not ideas that are particularly unique or shocking any more. We seem to be offended, at least culturally, when violence is committed against us or those like us, but there is no denying how inured we have become to the idea of retributive violence.

The plot of this book is deceptively simple: An American business man, Elliot Gast, is kidnapped in Belgium by extremists opposed to the European Union. Initially he is treated quite well in captivity, given books to read, plenty of food, and though he is bored and anxious, he is not in fear of his life. Then the black cables are snaked through the ceiling, recording every corner of the room where Gast is kept, recording him for audiences on the Internet. His captors then begin to deprive Gast of his senses, beginning, horribly enough, with his sense of taste. The attacks against him are paced out and one by one, basic things like touch, sound and smell are taken from him via acts of indifferent violence.

The key word for this book is indifference. Though the world around him is aware of his kidnapping, though Gast works every angle in his mind to try and escape his captors, his time in captivity is one of indifference. Not on his part, to be certain – Elliot Gast is filled with pain, terror, desperation and ultimately defiance, but his captors see him as little more than a pawn that can help or harm their cause. Gast initially feels a sort of connection with a doctor and a woman in the group, but even if they felt appalled at his treatment and how broadcasting it on the Internet makes them look, their response is not aimed at freeing Gast, but rather, battling those within their organization. Gast’s experiences at the hands of the terrorist group show that he means nothing to them even when they seemingly are on his side in terms of the abuse he suffers. Being the the clutches of his tormentors turns Gast into a thing. Deprived of most of the senses that allow a man to interact with the world, isolated from all normal human sympathy and concern, Gast is only human in terms of how he continues to perceive himself. To those who have captured him, he is no more than an important doll that bleeds.

The really senseless part of this book was not when Gast lost his senses one by one, not the seeming senselessness of the violence (because this violence did have sense behind it – all too often we confuse savagery with senselessness). The senselessness comes from knowing that all of us, with our habits, thoughts, emotions and quirks, can become that doll that Gast became in the eyes of anyone who considers us The Other and that, I think, is where the power in this book lies. We can become an example. Our suffering, while intense to us, can be depersonalized into a generic message of fear and through our pain and fear, we can become just one more horrific distraction in cyberspace. Maybe there is a message in such violence but chances are, people powerful enough to change the course of political events aren’t going to be the people watching as you forcibly lose your sense of smell.

Suffering in this book is senseless, in that is has little meaning aside from others imprinting their personal agenda on another man’s body.

Of course, Gast’s suffering has meaning to the people who inflict it. One of his torturers tells him:

“To truly change a man, you must take away what is important to him. You must take a rich man’s fortune. You must take a passionate man’s wife. You are a man of the senses, Elliot Gast. So we are eliminating them. By this method we can leave you thoroughly changed. Through your example, we can change thousands.”

This, of course, is not borne out by the events of the book. People are outraged that Gast is being held and tortured but no one is able to find him. No one is able to help him. And no one is changed by watching his suffering aside from the temporary shock one feels when watching atrocity. Written in 2001, this book had no way of knowing we would all one day be able to watch beheadings online as easily as we watch the latest silly cat videos that are part of the current informational memes. Elliot Gast was changed but the rest of the world marched on.

Perhaps the change in Gast is all that is necessary, in the context of the book. Immediately following the above quote, Gast recalls engaging in culinary atrocity. Tiny birds were force-fed buttered grains then drowned in alcohol. The tiny birds were then roasted and eaten, bones intact.

The waiters then draped each of us with a large linen napkin, explaining that these would capture the precious scent of the roasted birds.

“Or to hide your face from God,” our host joked. I looked closely at the tiny bird in my hand, roasted to a golden finish. Dipping the ortolan into a brandy butter reduction, I raised it and saw suddenly the darkened eye of the bird, no bigger than a tiny bead, glistening now with a tear of butter… Perhaps I was paying now for my various excesses…

I wonder if I am wrong, trying to seek a larger meaning behind the permanent damage done to Gast. Perhaps his personal epiphany, connecting the terrible things that happen to him with the suffering he was willing to inflict on tiny birds, on other peoples’ economic well-being, in order to engage in epicurean delight, is enough.

As I read this book, I was unsure if Gast was unreliable, or if I was missing a point because throughout the book, I seemed to understand things that Gast did not.

Although I regretted my role in this terrible game, I had to wonder what the response would be. What would it take to one-up Blackbeard? Ten online hostages? Live execution of innocents? Anything seemed horribly possible.

By the way, Blackbeard is the name Gast gives to his chief tormentor. Did Gast think the economic interests that were pushing the European Union would respond to this atrocity done him with anything other than words, possibly a trial of those who might end up arrested if it came to that? Did he genuinely think this sort of guerrilla violence would be answered, let alone countered? Why would a bank kidnap ten revolutionaries and torture them? Gast does not seem to understand that even though he has had his nostrils soldered, his tongue mutilated, that the terrorists still have little power. While in their hands, they seem like God to him, not the powerless entities they really are in the face of global banking and political systems.

However, Gast never loses site of himself even as he is made senseless. He refuses to cooperate in any manner, fighting as much as he can, refusing to do what his captors ask of him. In order to increase the theater of the torture, his captors want him to scream, to yell in pain, to fight overtly instead of rebel passively. At one point, Blackbeard tells Gast that his Internet pain show is making the terrorist group lots of money, 10% of which will be his if only he will cooperate and scream in pain. Gast, who is clueless in some respects, hopes it is true he will be permitted to leave if he does what is asked of him but doesn’t take such promises to heart. Instead, he hopes he can unmask Blackbeard in front of one of the cameras, revealing his face to the millions Blackbeard says are watching, making him a marked man. Instead of railing against his tormentors when he is left alone, he is resolute – all the ghouls who are watching will get is a man kicking a wall over and over and over. Moreover, it is hard to tell if Blackbeard is taunting Gast, asking him to participate in his own torture, or if Blackbeard genuinely thinks Gast is so craven he would think screaming in agony for a cut of the profits a good deal. In a book about senselessness, it is hard to know which character actually has any sense.

Throughout the book, Gast seems to have a connection with a woman he calls Nin (because her brown eyes remind him of Anaïs Nin, the erotic diarist), and though she seems to have a terrible time reconciling what her group is doing to Gast, Nin’s final actions are in a way the most senseless element in the book. But that is just a knee-jerk reaction. It is only senseless if one is accustomed to the idea that people who are kind always act uniformly and in ways that we can understand. Gast feels deceived, but only a Hollywood ending could have made this turn out any differently.

I wish for all in the world that I could quote the final paragraph in this book but to do so would give too much away and this complex book is one that should not be spoiled. The last line brings to mind Erasmus, whom it certainly comes from, but also Vonnegut, because Gast is changed and the world around him is not. Whether or not his suffering and permanent damage is worth the epiphany he experiences is not a question I am ready to answer. I suspect I will read this book again in a couple of years and see what I think then. If I do, I will also read again Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee and think hard about violence and the world. Increasingly I think the message of this book is that the world is there, but all that matters is your personal redemption. But who knows. In a few years I may think differently. This book is largely a character study, but it will make you contemplate violence, the world around you and how it is you could be the criminal in the eyes of another.