Taxidermia is a surrealist dark comedy made by Hungarian filmmaker György Pálfi. The film is an international co-production of Hungary, France, and Austria and is a metaphorical retelling of Hungary’s history from a socio-political lens. The story follows three generations of men, the first set during the Second World War, the second during the Cold War, and the last in contemporary (the 2000s) times. Taxidermia was screened at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and is regarded as Pálfi’s best film so far.
So how profoundly creative is the mind of György Pálfi? Read on and find out!
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Warning: Adult Content!
3 Generations of Sinners
Taxidermia tells the story of 3 generations of men, starting with the self-loving (pun intended) Morosgaványi. Morosgaványi is a perverse man, and it’s made clear from the very opening sequence of the film. He is a soldier of lesser rank, made to do mundane tasks in a remote farmhouse, while the Second World War wages in the backdrop. Throughout his story, Morosgaványi continues to find ways to appease his carnal desires. There seems to be little to Morosgaványi’s life apart from that. He constantly slacks off in his mundane duties, which he is constantly attacked for by his lieutenant. There’s even a death threat made over slacking soldiers, which Morosgaványi seems to take seriously, yet his lust overpowers it all. The closing scene of Morosgaványi’s story includes him fantasizing about various women, including his lieutenant’s obese wife, only for us to realize he’s just fornicating with the corpse of a slaughtered pig. His lieutenant catches him and finally gives him his due punishment – Death.
However, Morosgaványi’s fantasies – in a genuinely surreal sense – have left the lieutenant’s wife pregnant with his child. That child grows up to become Champion Speed-eater, Balatony Kálmán. Kálmán isn’t like his father. He works hard and constantly trains to become the gluttonous pride of his nation. His penchant for eating is discovered at an early age, and he begins to train for the same very early in life. Despite the constant training and excess retching between rounds, Kálmán fails at winning after a bout of lockjaw. Throughout his gluttonous attempts, he eyes female Champion Speed-eater Aczél Gizi and eventually marries her. He envies his colleague, Béla (who also lusts after Gizi and even seduces her at her wedding). Eventually, they gain the recognition they deserve for being monstrous gluttons, and Kálmán and Gizi are blessed with a young boy they name Balatony Lajoska.
Unfortunately, Lajoska doesn’t follow in his family’s footsteps. Unlike his elephantine parents, Lajoska is a pale and skinny lad who ends up being a Taxidermist. He must now take care of his obese retired father while also feeding mountains of butter to his father’s pet cats. At one point, Lajoska fights with his father, after which he storms out of his father’s home. He finishes a task of taxidermize what appears to be an aborted fetus and then returns to his father’s place only to find that his pet cats have escaped their cage and torn open his father’s massive belly to feast on his entrails.
Feeling much guilt over his actions, Lajoska taxidermies his father’s obese corpse, that of his pet cats, and finally sets up a mechanism that helps him taxidermize himself. In the end, the mechanism slices off his head, leaving what you see in the film poster.
The client who had sanctioned the taxidermy fetus returns to the store finds Lajoska’s taxidermy collection and decides to display them in a grand exhibition to celebrate the absurdity of life.
A Tragic Allegory of A Life Lived Poorly
While the socio-political interpretation of the film is clear, Taxidermia can also be seen from an alternative lens. The Seven Deadly Sins are pretty evident in how the three central characters behave (which further draws attention to Hungary’s troubled history). Not only do these sins drive the film’s narrative forward, but they also help shape each life as an allegory for a stage in man’s life. But let me make it more straightforward:
Morosgaványi displays apparent Lust and Sloth, something that can be attributed to wasteful youth. When boys hit puberty, there’s a sudden lust that pervades their existence. While some learn to control it, others revel in the newfound pleasure, Morosgaványi falls in the latter. However, because he’s so carried away by his lust, he slips deeper into the ways of sloth as well, which ultimately causes his death. A wasteful youth driven by lust and sloth is perhaps one of the most tragic ways a man can spend his teenage and early adulthood, which would undoubtedly have adverse effects on the rest of his life.
Balatony Kálmán displays Gluttony (speed-eating), but also Greed (medals, recognition, and Gizi) and Envy (he’s envious of his fellow competitor, Bela). As people in their mid-20s know, this is the age when you’ve truly become an adult, and it’s more so true for a traditional man (what with all the patriarchal burdens of taking care of the family). While the burden becomes more evident, there’s also the urgency of achieving your dreams, more so for those who wasted their youth (like in the first story ). The dual sword of goals and responsibilities is masterfully encapsulated in Kálmán’s tragic life. He begins his quest for greatness early on in life as if his youth were snatched away in exchange for glory. It’s natural for such a man to grow greedy for success. Seeing others succeed where you’ve failed only makes that man envious, and this is Kálmán’s story. After a wasted youth, successful yet unhappy adulthood. Of course, if your adulthood isn’t happy, your middle age and later life will not be all that colorful.
This is where Lajoska’s story begins. Despite being young, he appears almost like an older man. The wasted youth and early adulthood naturally drive a man towards Wrath. Lajoska displays that Wrath at his father, who in turn has become prideful because of bygone days. It’s both Kálmán’s pride and Lajoska’s Wrath which trigger the unfortunate end of this bloodline. This confused yet agitated ending of the film ends in the most absurdly chaotic manner. There is violence, both verbal and physical. The reactions of the characters after having lived a tragic life result in a horrifying, self-harming manner. A truly tragic end to a life poorly lived.
In the end, we’re left with a showpiece that highlights the absurdity of life, fresh with scars and wounds that hint at the terrifying life we’ve witnessed throughout the film. However, most people can only see the outward shell of a life. Naturally, this profoundly tragic metaphor that Pálfi showed us ends with a rich man displaying these horrific monuments as art pieces to be admired without any indication of their true meaning. An apt ending to the absurd life that we live.
Taxidermia is a disgusting film. There’s sex, vomit, violence, blood, and much more. It’s an absurd film, filled with disorienting, discomforting imagery, ideas, and tragedies that are bound to push your limits. It is an experience whose technical prowess I didn’t even touch upon because the pure poetic absurdity of its profoundly gross narrative is what has stuck with me. And for that reason alone, I think I finally understand why this movie is so loved.
Taxidermia is an absurdist masterpiece, and you must watch it.
Taxidermia is a 2006 Surrealist Dark Comedy Film directed by Hungarian filmmaker György Pálfi.