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.