When the producer of The Exterminating Angel first saw the completed work, he said, “I didn’t understand anything about it. It’s marvelous.” The film, directed by Luis Bunuel, was about a group of people who were, for no apparent reason, unable to leave the room they were in. Hearing the premise, I thought the movie would be a predecessor to The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits with a strange story and an unexpected plot twist. Like many of Bunuel’s films, it deals with “how people act in a desperate situation.”
The movie was filmed in Mexico after Bunuel was threatened with incarceration for his earlier work, Viridiana. Viridiana, shown last semester, was far less pornographic or outwardly offensive to religion than much of what comes out today. Let that be an indicator of what’s acceptable today.
What I could discern from the plot is this: a dinner party becomes trapped in a room with no physical barriers impeding their exit. When they attempt to leave the room, the people stop at the door and turn around. Tension rises when they run out of food and water, and those on the outside of the house are just as perplexed, and just as unable to enter.
They eventually escape the room, and fulfill previously sworn oaths by going straight to church; in church, they become trapped in much the same way. Woven throughout are many references to the lower class as animals, and even some scenes where the wait staff are seen as sheep. The final scene of the movie is a herd of sheep filing into church, unquestioningly.
When “Fin” appeared over the black screen, I had no concrete ideas about what I just witnessed. The Exterminating Angel is certainly a movie I will need to see a few more times to fully understand.
There were a few things that did seem clear the first time. Bunuel was trying to convey that mankind is often confined by human institutions, be them religion, government or ‘high society’. The final scene could have been a metaphor for humanity’s mindless adherence to Church dogma, and an especially great need for it during times of war.
The movie itself could have been an allegory about the world’s indifference to fascist rule before and during WWII, or perhaps to those trapped behind the Berlin Wall. At one point in the movie, a man named Christian was asked to help the sick man. He replied, “Try yourself, we’ll be right behind you.” Another man asks “why doesn’t [the outside] come for us?”
I have to agree with the producer; the movie is marvelous even if it wasn’t coherent. Compared to Un Chien Andalou, a short film written by Bunuel and the painter, Salvador Dali, this movie was very linear and comprehensible.
Today and tonight, Dr. Pease will be showing The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo. Next week is the French film, Lola Montes by Max Ophuls.
The film festival is continuing every Tuesday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. in the Evans building room 105. All students and faculty are invited. Admission is free to anyone interested. Until then, see you at the movies!