Those with weak stomachs need not go any further!
Written By: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Directed By: Pier Paolo Pasolini
The above disclaimer is something everyone truly needs to heed. Hyperbole is often used in movie trailers, horror movies more than most, in regards to shocking images and content. Usually the truth of what we see is far less shocking than we were led to believe. For the first hour of Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma I thought it was on pace to hold true to that train of thought. Yes, the first hour was frank and brusque in dealing with sexuality and forcing people to commit sexual acts of depravity and degradation. But, to be honest, the first hour wasn’t that sensational or shocking, at least not to “Oh my god, what have I just seen” levels. That changed when the second hour started up, oh did that ever change.
When people talk about Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma they obviously want to focus on the vulgarity and disturbing nature of the movie. So, in an effort to get that out of the way, yes, the second hour was disturbing on every level one can think of. I nearly lost it during the shit eating scenes, that type of material always gets to me, I have avoided a few infamous internet clips for that very reason. As the movie continued towards its conclusion the action on screen turned darker and darker. It may not have been as stomach turning as the shit eating and defecation, but the final moments of the movie were disgusting to watch for their brazen lack of care for humanity. To see characters show that much disregard for their fellow man was hard to take in. If you want to point to Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma as a disgusting movie I won’t argue, I certainly found it disgusting in places.
The argument then becomes, does such degradation and repugnant material have any artistic merit? I believe that it does, for a few different reasons. I have heard the arguments about the allegorical nature of the film in regards to politics and fascism, and while I accept those arguments I personally didn’t take any allegories towards politics away from the film. What I believe qualifies Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma as a great film is its willingness to go into areas of the human spirit that other films aren’t willing to. There are people out there who would do the things shown in Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma, and the movie shows this without a judgmental eye. It leaves the judgment up to you, and I liken this in a lot of ways to Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde. By presenting the events with complete amorality the events become abhorrent to us. Instead of being told, “Hey, this is wrong, this is depraved” we watch for ourselves and are able to deduce the depravity on our own.
I have heard the other argument, that art is meant to enlighten us and raise the spirits, Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma doesn’t do that, therefore it is trash. I don’t believe art is meant to raise the spirits, art is meant to do many things, not just solely to raise the human spirit. There are parts of humanity that are horrific, Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma is a chronicle of the abhorrence that humanity can become. But, there are moments in Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma that I do view as enlightening. The film takes a daring view towards the idea of homosexuality, it completely eradicates the idea of homosexuality. There is only sexuality, whether one is heterosexual or homosexual doesn’t matter, sexuality is found in both. Obviously it doesn’t present this idea as heartwarming or anything, but it is present.
Most of all Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma de-sexes the cinema. By showing us sexually based acts with not a drop of sexual pleasure derived from them it offers a different take on sex. It may be hard to watch, but pay attention to what you are being shown in Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma. You aren’t witnessing sexual prowess or the glorification of sex, what you are seeing is sex as a base animal act, given all the emotional resonance of an experiment in a lab.
There are other factors that made Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma an interesting experience and ultimately a worthwhile one. The film has an intoxicating appeal to it, I didn’t want to see what was happening on the screen but I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen. I really wanted to at times, but the film has a way of drawing you in and keeping you immersed in what is going on. It leaves you feeling dirty and a whole lot of disgusted, but it consistently remains intoxicating. The look of the film plays a large part in its appeal, elegant and austere images are offset by the depravity we are seeing. Beautiful gowns and a feeling of nobility is put side by side with human depravity and that is a weird, yet transfixing experience.
I hope I have made it clear that while I consider Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma a great movie for what it is and what it accomplishes, it is disgusting to watch. I’m not about to recommend it to anyone, because what it contains is too much for most people to take in. Salò O Le 120 Giornate Di Sodoma is vile and disgusting, yet it is a great movie, a movie about sexual and human paradoxes ends up a paradox in its own right.