Redefining the Self: The Human Centipede and Physical Spectatorship


  • Laura Wilson



As I watch the infamous scene in Tom Six's 2009 release, when Katsuro, the front segment of the centipede, defecates into the mouth of the second, my body rocks back and forth in a futile attempt at self-soothing. I hear the distant whine of a voice uttering, 'I don't want, I don't want to', before I realise it is my own. Finally, in a mixture of horror and relish, my back arches, my shoulders hunch forward and my chest heaves as I retch once, twice, three times.

The Human Centipede belongs to a large and varied group of films released in recent years that have become notorious for eliciting intensely physical responses, from anxiety and nausea, to the fear of, desire to or even act of vomiting. In this paper, I build on current research into the embodied spectator by creating a detailed analysis of how physicality is constructed and manipulated by representations of faeces in this scene.

Engaging with Richard Rushton's theories of spectatorship, Vivian Sobchack's studies of phenomenology and film, and Elizabeth Wilson's work on neuroscience, I explore the concept of physical spectatorship - the idea that embodied responses to film are textual constructions that return the viewer to a sense of their own corporeality. The notion of physical spectatorship challenges the dichotomy of film as object/viewer as subject, as well as the language we use to theorise the film-viewer relationship. By acknowledging the disgust this film generates, I question the extent to which notions of the viewer are strained against the concept of spectator as textual construction. Finally, I aim to theorise that which often escapes analysis in relation to film spectatorship: those body parts that make up the gastrointestinal tract, or the gut, that are brought into play in films designed to revolt.