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Eat or Die: Cannibalism as Manifest Destiny in "Ravenous"
For those of us fascinated by horror, we can always trace back our obsession to a single film or moment in time when horror grabbed us and didn’t let go. For me one of those moments was when I watched Ravenous, a horrifying story of cannibalism set on the American frontier that draws a parallel between consuming flesh and the US desire to consume the continent that drove the theory of manifest destiny.
Manifest destiny arose in the 19th century as the belief that the United states was destined to occupy the continent of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. This idea drove westward expansion in the 1800s as intrepid Americans pressed on to bring civilization and Christianity to the open frontier.
Ravenous opens up in the heart of the Mexican-American war, one of the major conflicts fueled by manifest destiny after the annexation of Texas. We follow Captain John Boyd being honored for his bravery in battle at a steak dinner. But Boyd is no hero. During a pivotal battle with Mexican fighters, he plays dead to avoid being killed. The fighters don’t realize he’s playing possum and he gets transported behind enemy lines. This is where Boyd first acquires his taste for blood. Stretched beneath the corpses of his bravely departed comrades, he can do nothing as the blood of his slain captain drips down his throat.
According to Colqhoun, he was part of a party of travelers pressing west into California when the bitter winter took them by surprise. Low on supplies they ate the oxen, horses and eventually began gnawing on their shoe leather for sustenance. When one of the party dies, the others serve him up on a platter to keep themselves alive.
The film’s critique of monstrous manifest destiny ends on a bleak note, as the Indian guide Martha walks in on Colqhoun and Boyd locked in a death embrace. In Martha, the film offers a simple enough solution to the all-consuming hunger of American imperialism: just walk away. The camera follows Martha as she departs into wilderness, but it seems that nothing is that simple. The camera shifts its eye and we watch as the officer Martha brought back to the fort on Ive’s orders takes a sip of the bubbling stew made from human flesh, suggesting that while you can walk away, the vicious cycle of hunger will continue.
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Cress arugula peanut tigernut wattle seed kombu parsnip. Lotus root mung bean arugula tigernut horseradish endive yarrow gourd. Radicchio cress avocado garlic quandong collard greens.