Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

Thursday, 13 May 2010

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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