Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Not a movie I ever care to see again.

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #17: Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom.

Chances are you won’t like this movie. Even if you do en­joy it for its cin­e­mat­ic and al­le­gor­i­cal val­ue, you won’t like it. If you do like it on any­thing ap­proach­ing an emo­tion­al­ly sat­is­fy­ing lev­el, please seek pro­fes­sion­al help im­me­di­ate­ly. This film is based on the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom, adapt­ed to fit neat­ly in­to fas­cist Italy in 1944. Fascists kid­nap some kids and bru­tal­ize them to death. The film is bor­ing, dis­gust­ing and de­praved through­out. Everything, every­body, and every body is de­hu­man­ized; both tor­tur­ers and tor­tured.

This is the point.

Pasolini wants us to ex­am­ine just what it means to be de­hu­man­ized. What’s the mech­a­nism? What are the mo­ti­va­tions? It boils down to some­thing I can re­al­ly on­ly ex­plain in a re­li­gious con­text. Hell is some­times con­sid­ered as the ab­sence of God’s love; an empti­ness. That’s sort of what’s go­ing on in this film. The tor­tur­ers are emp­ty of all love, and thus per­vert­ed by all of their oth­er de­sires. They hunger to strip love from every­thing that has it, the more in­no­cent and pure, the more they want to cor­rupt.

The cin­e­matog­ra­phy is the dieget­ic proxy of the au­di­ence in this film, and it whol­ly par­tic­i­pates in this de­hu­man­iza­tion. You know what that means? Yup, we view­ers were will­ing par­tic­i­pants in the tor­ture. Sitting on our as­s­es and let­ting the cam­era do the work makes it easy to be evil. The shot se­lec­tion is pre­dom­i­nant­ly front-and-cen­ter, al­ter­nat­ing heav­i­ly be­tween long shots and close-ups, and just about al­ways at eye lev­el. It’s al­most like you’re there, man! (And it’s bril­liant.) That’s why if you don’t come away from this film feel­ing un­clean, you need some help.

The heavy use of cu­bist art al­so adds to the qui­et vi­o­lence of the film, and em­pha­sizes the twist­ed-ness of what’s go­ing on. You’re not sup­posed to like this film, and Pasolini has pulled out all the stops to make sure you don’t. He wants you to see evil, feel evil, and then won­der what that means and what you can do to make sure that you aren’t or won’t be­come evil.

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2 thoughts on “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

  1. Salo is def­i­nite­ly one of the most ex­treme films I have ever seen, es­pe­cial­ly the cir­cle of shit se­quence. On one hand, I’ve al­ways felt that the best way to get rid of some­thing is to elim­i­nate it and cre­ate it’s an­ti­dote. But thats not the way film works some­times. Dealing with fas­cism, Pasolini demon­strates that the best way is to con­front it head-on. What this film does is like rub­bing a dogs nose in it’s own shit. We all pos­sess the ca­pa­bil­i­ty of evil.

  2. Thanks for your com­ment, Shawn. I think you’re right that the ex­trem­i­ty of the film is due to Pasolini’s choice to show the fi­nal re­sult of unchecked phys­i­cal and emo­tion­al pow­er rather than its an­ti­dote. It’s a warn­ing, not an al­ter­na­tive.

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