In De L’évasion, Levinas links shame to a set of terms dealing with restraint and confinement, an enchainment of self to self. While the captivations of shame engender an elaboration of presence and ethic of responsibility in Levinas, Tom Six’s controversial horror film The Human Centipede (2009) literalizes this intolerable stuckness in the form of its title—a cruel violence in which three bodies are sewn to each other, mouth to anus.
The film centers on the creation of a material embodiment of shame that is shared across multiple bodies. This does not mean that shame is reducible to the humiliations of victims; instead, moving past the notion of an affect bound up with a singular feeling subject, I argue that this notion of “being riveted to oneself” becomes a display of a formalized stuckness with finitude. The film’s cruelty involves an exposure of the difficult movements of fleeing the centipeded structure as, and especially when, parts of that sequence begin to die. While its focus on coprophagia and abject imagery might suggest that it turns on disgust, in fact the film’s focus is on shame as this structure of restrained binding to a witnessed ordering of finitude from which the protagonist cannot rend herself.
Formal shame confirms that to be a body is to be unable to distance oneself from vulnerable material for which one is responsible. Shame is thus neither theme nor feeling: it is the name for the form by which violence subtends the relation of self to others in sequence—what Levinas in late work describes as the subject as “hostage” of the other. This rivetedness in sequence attests to an ethics of shame, even a care in shame, which means that The Human Centipede ultimately argues for, and formalizes, horror as another name for love.