Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Rotenburg Cannibal" Loses Privacy Case to Ban Movie; Court Chews Up and Spits Out His Arguments

In one of those news stories that I like to believe have been generated only because the people involved knew how badly I needed to be reminded how lucky I am to be alive at this moment, a German court has ruled that the movie Rohtenburg, which was "inspired by" the story of the convicted murderer Arwin Meiwes, can be shown in that country. The movie was banned in 2006 in response to a complaint filed by Meiwes himself, who is serving a life sentence. Rohtenburg, which was released outside Germany under the title Grimm Love, was directed by Martin Weisz, who later made The Hills Have Eyes 2. The film stars Keri Russell as an American graduate student whose research in criminal pathology leads her to study "Oliver Hartman" (played by Thomas Kretschmann, of The Pianist, King Kong, and Valkyrie). Meiwes argued that, despite the fictionalization of the case, the movie was still close enough to his case that it "infringed" on his "personal rights."

Meiwes, known to tabloids as the "Rotenburg Cannibal", enjoyed a vogue as an Internet cause celebre when word got out that he had killed and eaten a man he had arranged to meet for this purpose through a website called the Cannibal Cafe, which advertised itself as being strictly for fantasy role-playing. Disregarding the fine print, Meiwes and Bernd Jürgen Brandes, who had answered his ad looking for "a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed", got together in Meiwes's apartment in 2001 and proceeded to videotape their encounter, so that no one would later get the wrong idea. On the tape, Brandes has the bright idea that Meiwes should get things rolling by biting off his penis; what follows confirms that biting a man's penis off is much harder than it sounds, news that will strike many of us on this side of the gender divide as deeply reassuring. After giving Brandes more than enough time to announce that this might not be such a great idea after all, Meiwes finally cut the penis off with a knife, after which he tried to sautee it, but you know how it is the first time you try out a new recipe, especially when you have company over. Meiwes did offer some of the dish to Brandes, but he declined, explaining that he had recently had his penis cut off and so didn't really have much of an appetite. (Meiwes wound up feeding it to his dog.) Meiwes subsequently helped his new friend to the bathroom, where Brandes stretched out in the tub for a little lie-down. There, having made sure that Brandes was well-medicated, Meiwes allowed him to bleed to death before harvesting his flesh and storing it in his freezer. He ate off it for months before getting in trouble by placing another ad online. This resulted in a visit to his home by the police, who found the videotape and proceeded to get the wrong idea from it after all.

The case led to considerable ethical wrangling over whether or not eating someone who has voluntarily signed on to be eaten constitutes a crime. (It also set off a wave of hand wringing when it was discovered that Germany had no actual laws discouraging cannibalism. (For the record, I don't tell everyone who enters my apartment that I expressly forbid them from peeing on the couch. Some things you just assume are understood.) Meiwes was originally given an eight-year sentence for manslaughter, but in 2005 he was ordered retried on the grounds that that ain't right; it was then that he was found guilty of murder and hit with the life sentence, so it's no wonder that he was already in a bad mood when word reached him about that somebody had made the movie of his life, and that it got his name wrong and starred Felicity. In its decision over whether the movie was an intolerable violation of Meiwes's right to privacy, the court reportedly took into account the fact that Meiwes himself "gave many interviews on himself and the crime and signed a marketing contract with a production company in 2004. The case has been the subject of a book, several additional films, and songs by Rammstein and Marilyn Manson." Meiwes has said that he himself hopes to someday write a book discouraging young and impressionable readers from eating people, or maybe just advising that if they're determined to eat people, they should maybe not videotape it and just take their chances. Meiwes's dog could not be reached for comment.

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