Crossing the Line: Salo or the 120 Days of SodomPosted: April 25, 2008
I going to just jump right into this here. Today we’re looking at Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom, and Italian film made in 1975 by Pier Paolo Pasolini. From now on you should probably just assume that there will be lots of spoilers, if such things matter to you.
Tagline: The 120 Days of Sodom
Interesting Fact: The director, Pasolini, was murdered just before the film was released. He was run over multiple times by the same vehicle.
Objectionable material: Fascists, Murder, Shit Eating, Nail Eating, Shit Bathing, Anal Rape, Constant Nudity, Masturbation, Golden Showers, an almost endless succession of torture and abuse, an almost endless succession of degrading treatment of other human beings, Sodomy (Obviously), pedophilia
Disturbing Quote: “I cannot eat rice with my fingers like this”
“Then why don’t you eat shit?”
PsychoLarry: Who doesn’t remember their idle summers as children, traveling with glee to their Uncle Giuseppe’s or Grandpa Salvatori’s rape villa on the shores of the Mediterranean? Ah the fun and unpredictability of it all! Maybe he’d be bored and decide to turn you into a literal hand puppet for a few hours. Perhaps he’s cut off one of your fingers and feed it to you in a stew while masturbating furiously. Oh, and the time he rigged you up in a saddle and bit and rode you around the house while defecating onto your back. Those really were our Salad Days. If any of that sounds out of the ordinary or uncomfortable, then you likely did not grow up in Salo.
Based on the works of the Marquis de Sade, Salo takes place in Fascist controlled Italy, where the most powerful men in Italy: The Prime Minister, the President, the Bishop, and the Magistrate, say to each other “Cor Blimey regular oppression sure is dull! Let’s make a smashing rape dungeon! Really ruin some bloody kid’s lives!” And so 18 teens, 9 girls and 9 boys, are rounded up and put though a non-stop regimen of pain, humiliation, torture and rape. After being made to eat out of bowls and forbidden from shitting until dinner time so they can eat their fresh shit, and a constant danger of being ass raped, the obedient children are let go. The ones that complained are then even more brutally tortured and murdered while the 4 men dance and masturbate. None of that is exaggerated, and is in fact not nearly covering all the terrible things done in the film. Also, there’s this:
As delightful as it sounds, the film works fairly well as a criticism both of fascism and of corruption in government in general. I think overall the intense nature of the acts carried out function extremely well as the treatment of oppressed people at any time, and during World War II especially. The sex and violence are not enjoyed by anyone in the movie, even the perpetrators spend more time furious and unhappy than not. You could look at the acts in the film as a criticism of the commercialized pornography industry that had begun at the time, or a prescient look at our culture, which produces shit like this all the time and consumes it hungrily. The issue of course is that the acts are so bizarre, insane, and depraved that it numbs the brain, making it difficult to actually drawn anything of value from the film. Thus Salo falls into the same problem with a lot of controversial modern art: it’s new and unique and says something interesting, but it’s so goddamned offensive that hardly anyone notices.
In the end, the film was disturbing, but in a far more limited way than one would expect. The victims are nameless bodies that are hardly ever really humanized (One girl does bemoan her plight as she sits in the Poo Tub), none of the 4 rapist-officials have a distinct personally and serve mostly as embodiments of cruelty and evil, and the smiling storyteller-prostitutes are completely passive. The music is muted, and outside of the disturbingly realistic torture at the end, most of the awful treatment is obscured just enough to let you realize it’s not real. Salo is a film that leaves you numb, and goes to places you never wanted to go (A Decent into Hell! Told you that would come up!), but for all that even those of you that didn’t get to go to Summer Rape Camp as kids might be able to take away some sense that Salo wasn’t just torture porn or traumatizing trash.
Screaming Girl: I’m not sure how I got wrapped up in the task of watching every morally questionable film that PsychoLarry and MBRFT (herein called “Movie Geeks”) could name. Maybe it’s because I can’t turn down a dare or maybe I just had nothing better to do on Wednesday nights. I’m thinking it’s the latter. I will not lie I cannot contribute to the extensive film analysis and review that I am sure the Movie Geeks will write in this same space. However, I might be able to at least delve into the BioPsychoSocial effects that theses movies might try to create or may have on the average viewer. So here it goes…
We kick this off with Salo, a movie MBRFT told me about almost a year ago. He talked about getting it, couldn’t find anywhere to buy it, and then finally downloaded it a few months later. Excited to see what the Movie Geeks had been talking about I came over to his house eager to watch the movie with a large bowl of popcorn. Sadly I was told “you are never watching this movie”. Needless to say I only wanted to see the movie more. As hard as I tried MBRFT stood strong and refused. I assume that MBRFT only had my best interest in mind knowing full well the strong emotional responses I often have regarding movies. I sobbed uncontrollably in Schindler’s List and screamed, clawed and jumped while watching The Eye. In comes PsychoLarry who with only a little gentle prodding convinced MBRFT that it might be funny to watch Salo with me and about ten of our unsuspecting friends.
I’m sure that the Movie Geeks have gone through the crazy details of the movie. The reasoning behind setting the movie in fascist Italy and the death of Pasolini shortly after the movie was done. I imagine they have also extensively described the separate rings consisting of anal rape, poop eating (which I might add was made by mixing chocolate and orange marmalade) and graphic violence.
All I am going to say is that I watched the movie and I didn’t find it all that horrible. Granted I have the tendency to shut my eyes when I start feeling queasy or scared. But mainly I was enjoying the reactions of the disgusted boys surrounding me. I believe it was Mulligan who at some point in the movie just sighed and asked, “What am I doing with my life?” I might attribute my lack of reaction to the fact that not too long ago I wrote a twenty something page paper about the history, details and practice of sadomasochism (more commonly known as S&M). It was for a psychology of human sexuality class, not fun, even though it was actually a very fun topic to research. Writing such an extensive paper required me to read some of the Marquis de Sade’s work unintentionally preparing me for the unpleasantness that is Salo.
After the movie I wasn’t very emotionally bothered. While watching the movie was hard at points it had no lasting effect on me after I had left. However, many of the unsuspecting viewers were telling me days later that they had lost sleep or had bad dreams. Overall I would give this movie a rating of “eh” on my scale of mind-fuckability.
End Note: I do feel it necessary to say that though I do not belong to the S&M community I have become close to a few members. I can speak for most, if not all, when I say that the members of the S&M community are very nice people who would not practice anything without the consent of their partner and would never intend to cause any serious harm to anyone. For any additional information you can read the very interesting and educational book SM 101: a realistic introduction by Jay Wiseman.
MBRFT – “Salo: or 120 Days of Sodom” is the first in what I hope will be a long line of controversial and culturally important films containing copious amounts of shit-eating. I’ve had the honor of sitting through it twice now after deciding to share it with my friends. So if there is some sort of The Ring-style death curse on it, I’m pretty sure I’m covered. I’d like to say there is some redeeming social commentary floating somewhere underneath all the rape, sodomy and torture, but I think I missed it while purging into the empty Doritos bag I found on the floor. On the plus side, it’s one of the few films featuring Italians that aren’t in the Mafia.
Next week we look at the Romantic Comedy Audition. Oh boy!