The Green Inferno is the big screen’s niftiest political allegory in a long time. Who would have expected a critique of that silly, useless Occupy movement before Hollywood got around to valorizing the renegades?
Writer-director Eli Roth puts a politically facile Columbia University student, Justine (Lorenza Izzo), in the midst of a Peruvian jungle, where her attempt at “protecting a tribe from civilization” means chaining herself to a tree to prevent corporate developers from bulldozing the tribesmen’s village. Justine is not prepared for either geopolitical interference or the tribe’s cannibalistic rituals. This modern Little Nell (a Daddy’s Girl whose father is a United Nations bigwig) finds herself stripped down and laid out for female circumcision.
Set in a glaringly verdant jungle (meant to evoke Werner Herzog’s art-movie travelogues), the film’s symbolic inferno refers to the maelstrom when sanctimony meets the real world. Roth satirizes all the upstarts who talk about “colonial inequality” and “sustaining the ecology,” yet have no thought for consequences. Satirical audacity like The Green Inferno’s was last seen in Larry Cohen’s brilliant, non-partisan alarums like the blaxploitation Black Caesar and the apocalyptic Q, the Winged Serpent. Roth’s exploitation-movie plot extends the endangered-American-youth ploy of the Taken films (Luc Besson’s popular action-movie allegories of post-9/11 global politics). Roth is also more honest about liberal sanctimony (and hypocrisy) than Kenneth Lonergan, whose 2011 Margaret offered an apologia for the self-absorption of New York’s Upper West Side elite.
The Green Inferno’s harshest critique comes in Alejandro’s rant, “Don’t think — Act.” It’s a perfect parody of today’s progressive idiocy. Roth usually imitates Tarantino’s sadism. (Roth played an American Jewish GI who was among those who carved a swastika on a German soldier’s forehead in Inglourious Basterds — although who can determine either his or Tarantino’s personal politics?) But Roth’s outrageousness in The Green Inferno may rattle his target audience and surprise the rest. He’s scabrous and nervy enough to satirize the bastard children of Sixties revolution; The Green Inferno is worthy of B-movie genius Larry Cohen’s bastard son.
— Armond White, a film critic who writes about movies for National Review Online, received the American Book Awards’ Anti-Censorship Award. He is the author of The Resistance: Ten Years of Pop Culture That Shook the World and the forthcoming What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about the Movies.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been amended since its initial posting.