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Organs and Organic Unity: Burke & Hare Review

Aristotle has been dead for a fairly long time, but his stance on tragedy in Poetics still makes sense, though no post-structuralist would say this without blushing: A story needs a beginning, middle, and end, sure, but, he said something of greater importance: They must all be in an organic unity, such that, as the famous dictum goes, an impossible probability is better than a possible improbability, which is to say something bound to happen, even if impossible, is better than something which is not bound to happen, and I think a good illustration of this principle is the failure of Burke and Hare to lift off, even if, overall, it is a good-hearted comedy. Where the hell did that pronouncement at the end come from? It can’t seem to decide what it wants to be, first a comedy, and then a tragedy, and in between there’s this void which just happened to project the actions of two murderous people.

What happens is not really a mess. There are very funny moments, and the quirks of the film are lovely, but by the end, when the film attempts to reach that climax, it fails, and not for the lack of trying: There are attempts to link its plot to Macbeth by suturing its scenes with a play-within-the-film, there is a romantic subplot, undertones of guilt and redemption, a twist of politics, and a subplot of a battle between two anatomists. All of which are supposed to affect us, but, ultimately, do not, because the investments of the film are too scattered to make any significant impact.

The beginning and the end are great, and are remainders of a great film about murder, guilt, and love that never was, because of all the things you could omit in a film, in any narrative, in fact, what you truly cannot leave out is a middle.

A five out of ten.


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