Found (2012)

Before starting with the actual content of this post, I will say outright that I thought this was an amazing film. I've seen a lot of people complain about things like the acting in it, but I didn't really notice or care about any of that because I thought the content of it was extremely interesting. This is a really shocking, fucked up kind of movie, but a really smart and well-done one and not an August Underground or A Serbian Film situation. A lot of why I liked this film is probably really specific to me and me having a weird idiosyncratic reading of it that I would be surprised if anyone else has ever thought of before, but nevertheless, I really liked this and think this is a super underrated movie. I'd highly recommend going in cold and watching it before reading this.

Anyways, on with the review/effortpost.

One of the key ideas in Afropessimism, or at least the part of it that I have taken the most from because of my background in studying Heidegger and some exposure to René Girard, is the concept that antiblackness is something that is continually being reinforced by white supremacy because it serves a specific function for white society. That function is that, through the sacrifice of black lives, the ontology of white society is made intelligible. I mention Girard because it parallels his analysis of human sacrifice and scapegoating, which has to do with his mimetic theory of desire that I won't go into both because I can't do it justice without having read him recently and because it would detract from the point being made here which is that he argues that human sacrifice was once a practice in human civilization that was necessary in order to also maintain a kind of ontology where mimetic desire is repressed by singling out the scapegoat, the person to be sacrificed.

He argues, incorrectly as Afropessimist writers have shown, that this practice was ended with the Crucifixion, when in reality is continues to persist in a secular form through the scapegoating and sacrifice of black lives. An obvious example of this is white supremacist rhetoric which legitimizes the sacrifice of black lives through the police state by equating blackness to criminality. The desire to transgress against the laws of a neoliberal democratic state are repressed through the scapegoating and sacrifice of black lives through apparatuses of state violence like the police, the prison system, state executions, etc. But the important point is that this is only legitimate when it happens through the state apparatus, which has its own language that is manufactures to make this seem legitimate. It isn't that black people essentially get extrajudicially executed by the police for existing – no, it's all in the name of fighting "crime". It is one part of a typical pattern in liberalism where its underlying actually existing fascism is concealed, so that – in this instance – white people are able to enact their desire to sacrifice black people to maintain an ontology of the world – in this case, one in which the state and its laws are legitimate and that one can live a "safe" and civilized existence as a functioning member of society as long as they play by the rules.

But this is what makes serial killers interesting, and what leads into the topic of this post. If the police are themselves murderers who are only thought of differently because there is a language and state apparatuses that legitimize their violence, then serial killers are the constant threat of an ideologically fascist state. Because a serial killer's violence is not legitimized, but it is also often directed at the same members of society who have already been necropolitically deemed to be acceptable losses: Black people, sex workers, women, children, etc. It's well-known to the point of being a fun joke to turn back around on racists who quote FBI statistics that the overwhelming majority of serial killers are white men.

I am opening this post talking about these things because one plot point in the movie Found is that the serial killer character (the main character's brother) exclusively targets black people, something I noticed immediately and was wondering if it was because the director knows true crime and knows that serial killers tend to target whichever classes of people the cops are least likely to actually put any effort into investigating the deaths or disappearances of. But later on in the film, it becomes a part of the serial killer character's stated motivations that his reason for killing black people specifically is because of racism, a racism that he learns from the father character, who himself makes very explicitly racist comments in the film, American History X style.

Anyone who has seen the movie though would probably wonder why I'm focusing on this so much since it ultimately figures very little into the plot. One is tempted to say that the movie is confused in what it's trying to say and only glosses over the issue of racism, but as I noted at the beginning of this post, the point of antiblackness isn't just because individual white people are bad and hateful. In a systemic sense, it serves a specific function to maintain an ontology, and in that sense I think Found – probably unintentionally – handles this absolutely masterfully. Because racism is both a thematic part of this movie, but also is in the background, almost normalized, because it is ultimately a character study about the main character, a white preteen boy named Marty who has a typical suburban life aside from his brother keeping severed heads in his closet.

This, again, is probably not something that was at all intentional, but from the very first moments of this film, I got it. In an early scene in the movie, Marty, having just looked at a severed head in his brother's closet, goes downstairs to the kitchen table because his mom has called him down to eat. It brought back an extremely vivid memory burned into my brain of myself at around his age, a few years older really, having just seen an infamous snuff film that was going around the internet a few years ago. Like other kids who grew up as weird social outcasts with no friends and a typical suburban family, the older I got the more I became attracted to exactly the same sorts of things as Marty. I started getting into violent media, mostly video games and horror movies but not so much comics, and being an edgy teenager there was a period where I would sometimes also look up gore on the internet. Seeing this one particular snuff film set me straight, however.

I remember going downstairs, much like Marty does in the film, to the kitchen because my mom had called me to have dinner. I remember looking around at the suburban tract home I lived in, shaken by what I had just seen on the internet. When you live in a space and spend a lot of time in it, you don't tend to think about or notice things about it, but suburban tract homes are a kind of non-place. They don't exist to be lived in, and they are not unique; they are built by real estate development corporations according to a set of predefined floor plans and exist to be speculative assets for middle class people who can afford to buy homes. But in this moment, I went downstairs, and suddenly everything felt unfamiliar. I had the acute sense not just that the house I lived in felt fake, but also that there was no tangible narrative to my life, because I also could not tell my mom that I had just seen a snuff film on the internet and was shaken by it. Instead I hid it and acted as normal as I could.

Like Marty in the film, I too was (big shocker) a weird social outcast who got sent to the principal's office for concerning drawings (well, writing in my case). I have many memories of getting caught by adults expressing some sincere feelings of alienation, confusion, anger, disgust at myself and others, things that I had no language to express other than as depictions of violence. Like Marty, I could not talk to anyone about this, because I had no one to talk to. I had learned at a young age to never trust adults or my parents, because in the vapid minds of white middle class people, whatever they did not understand, anything that threatened their ontology, would be punished.

As the film develops further we learn that Marty is also a victim of bullying at school, and the specific form it takes that comes up again and again in the film is two other boys trying to peek at him in the restroom because he doesn't use the urinals. Though they don't see anything, they start calling him a faggot and saying he has a small dick, and then start spreading this around the school. Again and again, what specifically comes up is bullying related to his body and his sexuality, and he responds to it by doing nothing because he is afraid of being punished for standing up for himself. Later on in the film, he has a conversation with a pastor after he does stand up for himself and gets the usual lecture that many people probably also got growing up that "violence never solves anything" and to tell an adult if someone is picking on you. As Marty himself says though, adults don't care and don't listen to him. He knows this because his dad is a typical middle class dad who just cares about watching TV and is quick to anger and verbal or physical abuse, and his mom is a typical middle class mom who is overprotective and denies her son agency by never listening to him or taking anything he says seriously. His parents are both so disconnected from the lives of their children, who like their house essentially function within a nuclear family as a speculative asset, that they don't know that their older son is killing people and keeping severed heads in his room.

The thing about his older brother – which very well may be something I'm reading into it that isn't there but it's how the movie resonated with me – is that I read him less as a separate character and more as a metaphor for Marty's own development. His older brother like Marty is a fan of horror movies, and they bond over it, but his older brother is becoming increasingly disconnected from his life despite being eerily similar to him. His life has become mysterious to Marty both because he's older than him and because he's killing people, but the killing is itself a narrative that he can also grasp through horror movies. His voiceover throughout the film makes this explicit, talking about how he feels like he's in a horror movie.

A pivotal moment about halfway through the film is when Marty discovers a slasher film that his brother has stolen from the video store which he seems to be reenacting. He watches it with his only friend and becomes sickened by it because of this knowledge that his brother is acting out the violent (specifically, misogynistic violence, with full on literal severed head skullfucking) text of the film in real life. But his friend doesn't know this and makes fun of him for getting scared at a cheesy slasher movie, and once again, Marty is unable to talk to anyone about his brother being a serial killer. By the end of the film he has lost one of the main things that him and his friend bond over, which is also horror movies, because his friend thinks that he's a pussy. He starts bringing up the rumor being spread by bullies about Marty's body and sexuality, and this pushes Marty to finally reveal his secret to someone. He asks his friend if he wants to see something really scary, and he shows him the severed head, and his friend is obviously horrified, vomits, and leaves.

If it isn't clear by now, the way that I read this film is that it is an extremely trans-coded film. The very fact that this scene which hinges so much on Marty's sexuality and body leads to him unzipping something that causes his only friend to recoil in horror and vomit is perhaps the most explicitly trans-coded a scene in any movie can get without spelling it out. It's the most famous transmisogynistic trope of all time for a trans woman's body to inspire uncontrollable vomiting, done by the likes of both The Crying Game and Family Guy.

But Found is also a very specific kind of trans-coded narrative. So much of the film's plot hinges on another kind of security system beyond the authority of Marty's parents and other adult authority figures: That of his peers, who take after society as a whole and bully whoever is worth less to either violently make them conform or otherwise begin the process that will follow them their entire lives of slowly killing them. Marty's older brother as I read the film is the opportunity for Marty to become a capable member of society. But as said before, if liberalism conceals the fascistic violence that is necessary for its functioning and serial killers are fascistic violence – that is, violence for its own sake and openly so – made explicit on an individual level, then Marty's older brother is (obviously) not just a potential role model that he can follow and have a normal and healthy development. Marty's older brother is the horrifying violence of a normal male development made explicit: The masculinizing effects of testosterone, the role one must fill as a heterosexual male as doing violence towards women, and as a white man the total unpersoning of black people to create a coherent ontology for oneself.

In my reading of the film, it's clear as day that this functions as a metaphor (or can very usefully be read that way if the film is read through this lens) for the confusing experience of dysphoria right before hitting puberty. Marty's brother is not actually his brother, but rather he is perceiving his own fragmented identity through the character of his brother, and seeing himself slipping away from himself. He is watching himself, in a schizoid way where time has gotten out of joint, become something he cannot recognize, something horrifying to himself. But he is still a preteen watching this happen, unable to do anything about it because he has nowhere else to go from there. In the transfeminine experience, it's not just that maleness is horrifying, having to embody a role that one feels absolutely unsuited for and doesn't desire, but it's horrifying because it is also – much like the violence one must perform in order to be male – itself violently imposed on one's body. And yet, much like how Marty's brother continually insists that he loves him and would never hurt him, it is also literally so close to oneself (it is supposedly one's own body after all) that unless one is lucky enough to have the language to articulate these feelings at this age, it still is forced on oneself and consent for it is manufactured. A preteen transfeminine person is constantly told that what is or will happen to their body is "normal" and "healthy".

There is a way for one to successfully repress this, however, if the feelings are strong enough to not ignore. One can decide they're just a gay man if they have the language to articulate this and also have some attraction to men, or if they are not afforded either of these things, they have the option to do the same thing that Imperial Age states did when they lost their colonies: They can choose to become fascists. It's no mere coincidence that there are so many instances one can at least anecdotally point to of people who, for example, grew up using imageboards and were groomed into fascist ideology who later realized they were repressing being trans or gay. Being openly fascist is what failures – failed men and failed states – turn to. The last refuge of the social outcast with confusing feelings about their sexuality or gender, or both, who has had all paths to a healthy development foreclosed to them is to instead embrace the only concept they have of what they're supposed to be: A monster, but nevertheless at least a human being of some sort. These are the sorts of people that grow up with all their peers saying they're going to shoot up the school someday, who are into horror movies and heavy metal and the occult, because the only possible development of a sense of self they have left is to become the monster they know themselves to be. Not just because they have nothing else, but also because as the movie makes clear, as a form of self-defense. The other kids are maybe less likely to pick on someone who might shoot up the school.

But Found is not as cut and dry about Marty becoming the monster, because it is never that simple when it also involves repressing one's actual desired identity. Someone who is merely a loser, the type of incel who becomes a Nazi, ends up like Steve (Marty's brother). But in the text of the film as I read it, there is a different narrative a character like Marty can have of becoming conscious of his identity being out of sorts with the role society has determined him to have and that his body is conspiring to also force him into. An edgy social outcast with confusing repressed gender dysphoria or a non-straight sexuality can confront these repressed feelings and become something else, and throughout the film Marty is caught between the possibility of becoming like his brother or not. It is even hinted at one point in the film that Steve himself doesn't have a coherent identity: He looks in the mirror and asks himself if he can do it (kill one of the boys who was bullying Marty), and then has a sudden change of attitude and tells himself confidently that yes he can. There is a complex connecting tissue between Marty and Steve where Marty is at a stage in his life of having to decide what sort of person he wants to be, and being horrified by what path he sees for himself, and even if he becomes like his brother he gets a glimpse of something his brother doesn't tell him or anyone. Like Marty, Steve has no one to talk to about what he's going through and has no language for describing that his identity is itself not just fragmented but also is only constructed by embracing a fiction which makes explicit and intelligible what he as a man has to do.

The theme of horror movies in the film, and specifically the film-within-the-film Headless, itself further demonstrates that the development Marty has for himself that involves becoming this monstrous version of himself, his brother, is becoming a fiction which makes the violence of his circumstances intelligible. But despite what some viewers would probably say, I do not think that this is a movie about whether or not violent media makes people do bad things. I say this both as a horror movie fan writing about a horror movie and therefore feeling compelled to argue against this very boring reading of the film, and because Marty himself literally says that he likes horror movies but doesn't want to kill people. The scene where he watches Headless with his friend is a common male bonding experience of watching a gratuitously, violently misogynistic film, and his friend experiences a mix of enjoyment and disappointment whereas Marty is horrified. His friend is also a preteen and doesn't himself have a fully developed sense of identity, so he enjoys the film somewhat while also being indifferent to it because it isn't an adequate enough spectacle (it's cheesy and doesn't have a satisfying ending). His brother likes it so much that he stole it from the video rental store and seems to be reenacting it, becoming the monster because it is the only identity he can perform.

Marty on the other hand is horrified at it, but being a horror movie fan is still a major part of his character. The way I read this, speaking from my own experiences as a transfem person who is a fan of horror movies, including shitty misogynistic slasher films, is that horror movies and other violent media create a language for dysphoria. The slasher villain makes feeling alienated at maleness into a narrative, body horror makes the abject (in the psychoanalytic sense) experience of dysphoria into something intelligible. Normal cis people watch a slasher movie and experience an unconscious pleasure at seeing the most base elements of heterosexuality condensed into a simple spectacle; they watch a body horror movie and get to be tourists in abjection. A transfeminine person watches a slasher movie and experiences a jouissance (both a pain and pleasure for its morbidity) at seeing the ruin that they once thought they were destined to (maleness and heterosexuality). They see a body horror movie and experience a jouissance at seeing what is either constantly felt or has been constantly felt for a long period of their lives (dysphoria and abjection) turned into a discrete and intelligble object. In the case of body horror, it can even be transmuted into a valid libidinal object, if you happen to be a particularly perverse and sick individual.1

But violent media like horror movies work in multiple ways and can be read differently depending on the audience, as this post is no doubt proof of, which makes the connecting tissue of horror movies between Marty and Steve so complicated. Marty could watch Headless with the usual unconscious pleasure of watching a horror movie, but because he knows that he is watching the ruin that he feels destined to become, it is truly horrifying. These two different relationships he has to horror media in the film are at the extreme ends of how one can experience horror movies and change as his own identity changes in the film, and they are intimately related to how other people experience the same media. Quite simply, when he watches Headless, he realizes that his experiences are in fact not like anyone he knows. He no longer can even share an appreciation of horror movies with his brother because in their hyper-violent and explicit depiction of male violence against women, he realizes that it just doesn't register with him in the same way that it's supposed to with a man or a teenage boy.

To return to the issue of race in the film for a moment: It's established in quick succession that Marty's dad is a racist and then that his brother is also a racist. His dad, obviously, isn't killing people though, and his brother again by becoming a serial killer is making the fascistic violence of normal white suburban middle class Amerikan society explicit. He has broken the unspoken code to never say the quiet part loud. But it's also quite obvious in the film I would argue, and I would also argue it's generally the case in true crime with serial killers, that he isn't actually just killing specifically black people because he's a racist. He isn't a skinhead or an ideological white supremacist like Edward Norton's character in American History X. His racism, and that of people like Jeffrey Dahmer, is the unconscious normalized sort. Steve's racism in the film is a legitimizing narrative itself, albeit one that in polite society is only acceptable when done through the apparatus of police violence. It exists to maintain his own personal ontology. He doesn't kill because he is a ruin, because he has become a monster so that he could at least be anything at all, because it would itself be violating an unspoken code to his own personal narrative to confront this. Much like the typical depiction of a sociopath as someone who completely lacks emotions (which isn't entirely true), he would have to confront the fact that he is entirely hollow without the set of signs that he has constructed for himself, cheap papier-mache props for the high school theatre production that he is perpetually repeating in his own head. He is a serial killer, but in his own narrative he is also a racist and there is some other purpose to his actions, and for him this is at least a character, at least a narrative, lest he confront that there is nothing else for him to be.

Steve even mentions to Marty that his racism is justified because Marty's bully that he killed for him was black, something which Marty rejects. Marty is not able to identify with his father or his brother in any respect, but despite his brother being a racist and a serial killer, he still in this scene hugs him after Steve assures him that he would never hurt him. Because much like Steve, Marty has nothing else to be but what Steve has become, but unlike Steve, he is too conscious of what becoming the monster would mean because Steve is himself an object that is intelligible to Marty. So he embraces him because he is partially resigned to the idea of what he must become, until this too fails later on in ths film.

Returning to the issue of Steve and Marty's family, it's been noted previously that their family are about as typically white suburban middle class as you can get. His father is casually racist and verbally and physically abusive, his mother is over-protective and doesn't listen to him, both of them are mostly absent from their children's lives. They keep their own secrets like Steve, his mom's collection of poorly-written love letters from some past lover she hangs onto because it's implied she is in an unhappy marriage, his father's a collection of porn magazines. The parents aren't on the screen very much and aren't given much explicit characterization, partly because this is a story mostly about Marty and told from his perspective, but also I'd argue because the point is for his parents to not have much to them. They're supposed to be completely inadequate to him having a normal development, the only significant capacity they exist in being to be authority figures and punish their children. His parents do take him to the movies or take him to rent movies, but this would seem to only further reinforce that most of Marty's development is being made into an intelligible narrative through horror media before the violent break occurs when he watches Headless and realizes what the movies actually mean.

This makes the ending of the film, which is itself gloriously shocking and brutal, all the more interesting. Because if I've established so far that Steve should be read metaphorically as Marty watching his own development into a man and being powerless to stop something that is so completely horrifying to him because of how trans-coded his experiences are, then the ending of the film is the logical endpoint of becoming that sort of man. Once again, this is a film about becoming conscious of what it actually means to become a man/fascist, when all the masks of polite white suburban society drop and you are left to behold a ruin whose only purpose is to do violence. This makes the ending so interesting because what this all leads to is Steve acting out the Oedipus complex: He rapes his mother (and then kills her) and also kills his father.

As a layperson, I cannot comment on if there's ever been any psychoanalytic (as in Freudian and not like, psychology in general) work written before analyzing serial killers or if this sort of analysis is way off the mark, but going off everything I've said thus far about the film, to me the ending of this movie is an obvious example of an unresolved Oedipal complex, just not in my reading a classic version of it. From everything I've said so far which obviously is reading the film from a feminist perspective in which men as a class exist are constituted by their role in doing violence towards women, the ending of this film to me isn't just a crescendo of making the absolutely revolting and horrifying status of maleness explicit. It is also, being that the Oedipus complex is the phallic stage and feminist analyses identify the phallus as a sign/symbol with rape and violence, a statement that from a transfeminine perspective, the endpoint of becoming a man is apocalyptic in nature, omnicidal in the scope of its violence. In this film's text, it isn't just incidental that Steve acts out the unresolved Oedipus complex by killing his and Marty's father and raping their mother. It is, rather, the teleology of maleness for it to destroy itself and everything else – or at the very least, within the modern context of the most normalized social unit possible: The white suburban family. To become a man is not merely the possibility of incidentally being stuck in the phallic stage: maleness is the phallic stage, it is a state of being aggressive, violent, self-centered.

For however much the father character in the film is, like the mother, completely useless and absent, it's clear from the film that there is no possibility to successfully resolve the Oedipus complex by identifying with the father and forming a healthy superego. The father character in the film isn't shown to be a positive role model. The secrets Marty discovers of his parents having an unhappy marriage, of his father's (indeed men in general) objectification of women by collecting porn magazines despite the narrative that a mother and father are supposed to be an ideal and complete social unit already shatter the illusion that there is anything to identify with. They are a void, and when his father has any kind of character, as stated previously it's as someone verbally and physically abusive, a threatening authority figure who is otherwise more interested in watching TV.

Perhaps most interesting of all about the end of the movie however is how brutally it shatters even the narrative of Oedipus. In the original play, Oedipus doesn't just sleep with his mother and kill his father, but he also plucks out his own eyes after the revelation at what he's done. Found ends with Marty tied to the bed the next morning after Steve has killed their parents. Steve is wandering naked and covered in blood out into the street presumably to get shot to death by the police after realizing that for all he's done with the hope of protecting his brother and freeing them from their useless parents, Marty is obviously traumatized by all of this. But he has left his parent's dead bodies on the bed next to body, mutilated, with their eyes plucked out just like the slasher villain does to his victims in Headless. Even killing his own parents and raping his mother is not such an impossible event that Steve must pluck his own eyes out. Such is the complete and total failure of the family form, so completely foreclosed is the possibility for Marty to have ever had a normal development into a man, that instead the void that his parents have been is made real. Their eyes are plucked out, just as was foretold in the film that makes explicit to Marty what it means to have a "normal" development and become a man. The family form is worthless, there is nothing to identify with, nothing to become, and so the eyes are plucked out because it's not his parents who died, only the empty signifiers of mother and father.

And so the final shot of the film before it cuts to credits is Marty, tied to the bed, his mouth gagged, throughout the film denied the ability to talk to anyone, to have a narrative for his own development, to have any agency and constantly expected to defer to the authority of useless adults. He is waiting for when he will be found tied there, wondering how long it will take. He stares off into the camera, the eyeless corpses of his parents next to him, his brother wandering off into the world naked and covered in the blood of his parents like a newborn child.

His last words: Something like this could really mess up a person.

Footnotes:

1

I happen to be a particularly perverse and sick individual.

Created: 2023-11-22 Wed 09:16

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