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Why Was Man Bites Dog Rated NC-17?

There's a certain class of movies that stay with you long after you've finished watching them–not because they're particularly moving or well-written, but because they depict the kind of extreme human behavior that other films wouldn't dare touch. The list includes titles like "Cannibal Holocaust," "A Serbian Film," "Salo," "Human Centipede," and others of that ilk. We would caution you that any of those films is likely to make you lose your lunch, but if you're already clicking on an article about "Man Bites Dog," this kind of movie is probably already your thing.

"Man Bites Dog" does belong on that list, but it goes for more than simple shock value. Critics acknowledge the film's shocking violence, but most of them also have to give "Man Bites Dog" credit for its thought provoking message. Here's a sampling:

"A black comedy that's as dark as night, 'Man Bites Dog' is a worthy successor to 'A Clockwork Orange' as this generation's most telling and unflinching look at our views on violence," wrote Christopher Null in 2002 (via Rotten Tomatoes).

"The film's absurdly dark humor comes with a price tag, and after a while the continuously mindless and pointless killings begin to exact a numbing toll on the viewer," wrote Brian Mckay in 2003 (via Rotten Tomatoes).

Jonathan R. Perry of the "Tyler Morning Telegraph" in Texas was less impressed, writing that it "Joins 'I Stand Alone' and 'Funny Games' on the list of maddeningly recondite European films that exploit the violence-in-media subtext to hide their sick, voyeuristic fantasies" (via Rotten Tomatoes).

Whether it's a sharp satire or a depraved indulgence is up for debate, but it's one of the most disturbing movies ever made. Here's why it's rated NC-17.

Man Bites Dog is a comedic, no-holds-barred depiction of a serial killer's life

The 1992 Belgian film is a mockumentary about Ben (Benoît Poelvoorde), a prolific serial killer whose jovial nature is at odds with his gruesome hobby. There's not much in the way of a plot. Told "fly on the wall" style, the documentary crew follows Ben as he commits one brutal killing after another–with lots of racism and misogyny thrown in. Eventually, the documentary crew comes to sympathize with Ben and helps him commit some of his crimes–a fairly obvious metaphor about how people who enjoy violent movies are complicit in their making.

There's no real way to list the reasons why "Man Bites Dog" is rated NC-17 without just describing horrible acts of  explicit violence. Suffice to say that the film's many killings and acts of sexual assault are realistic, graphic, and unpleasant for most viewers. Many reviewers compared it to a snuff film. Given that, this is a case where an NC-17 rating is necessary. 

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).