Friday, 1 September 2017

The Exterminating Angel- notes, questions...

I’ve just watched Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel. 
1/ The film is about a group of upper-class people who have dinner together at a man’s house, but after dinner, for some inexplicable reasons they can’t leave the room. That is the premise: there is no wall, no door, no physical barrier, they just can’t leave the room—a surreal film based on absurdist logic. 
2/ I don’t know what it means. 
3/ Bunuel said “There are around twenty repetitions in the film, but some are more noticeable than others.” 
In my 1st viewing, I only noticed 8 repetitions: 
The group arrive twice. 
The 2 female employees try to leave twice. 
The host gives the same toast twice. 
The line about someone going bald is repeated. 
The last part of the evening is replicated. 
There are about 2 scenes of outsiders being unable (or unwilling) to enter the house. 
The absurd thing at the house is repeated at the church. 
The scene of the sheep going towards the “imprisoned” people in the room is replicated at the end with the church. 
4/ What’s up with the sheep, and the bear? 
5/ These affluent people, trapped in a room and stripped of everything, live like gypsies and act like barbarians. As the thin veneer of civilisation disintegrates, these people turn to fighting, theft, suicide, superstition/ black magic, and demanding the sacrificial death of the host. 
6/ Their worst sides are revealed. 
7/ The film could be an allegory for the bourgeoisie being so privileged, oblivious and self-centred that they’re shut off from the outside world.
8/ It could be about the disintegration of civilisation, and about human nature, like Lord of the Flies
9/ Or is it a joke? These people arrive twice, so they have to leave twice? 
10/ A flock of sheep running into the church is a nice jab at religion. 
I don’t know. This is the kind of film that demands multiple viewings.


  1. Di,

    You got me interested. I found the film on Netflix.

    1. I'm glad to hear that. Tell me what you think about it.

    2. Di--OK, will do (if I remember)

  2. Di--just viewed The Exterminating Angel. I agree--it is absurdist. If I were cynical, I would suggest that the producer/director/etc deliberately fabricated this film simply to make a name for themselves.

    Overall, it's an adult version of The Lord of the Flies. If there is a hidden, deeper, secret message here (other than people behave badly under prolonged stress), it escapes me.

    The last scene, the attack on the people, was equally mystifying. Was it the police? the military? a coup?

  3. Di--forgot to mention the repetitions. I really didn't focus on watching for them, so I missed most of them, I guess. I did pick up on the most obvious ones early in the film, only four or five of the ones you mentioned.

  4. Interesting. I have a wee confession to make here: I've never really cared that much for "The Lord of the Rings". No doubt this is unfair of me, but it seems to me no more than the dramatisation of an idea - that idea being that humans are essentially evil and savage, and that once the veneer of civilisation is stripped, savagery all too easily appears. Now, that may or may not be true - I don't pretend to know -,but I can't really see in the novel much more than an illustration of that thesis. It is a novel with a message, and, quite frankly, I don't find the message that remarkable.

    While I can understand why that same message can be perceived in The Exterminating Angel, I don't think the effectiveness of the film depends upon the message. Its greatness - for I do feel it's a great film - depends not so much on what it says, but, rather, on what it *is*. I try not to *interpret* what I see, for the very point of surrealism is that it defies analysis - that it defies rational explanation, or, indeed, anything that smacks of rationality. So it is not, for me at any rate, something to be judged in terms of whatever message we may find in it. Rather, I find myself simply relishing the absurdity for its own sake. For our lives *are* absurd. We may apply some structure to it, so it conforms to our reason; but as soon as that structure breaks down, so does reason, and all we are left with is an utter absurdity. And we can't escape from it: we are caught in this endless repetitive cycle of utter unreason, that refuses to satisfy us by conforming to whatever rational schema we may try to impose upon it.

    Buñuel depicts all this with a suprprising charm and elegance that are strikingly at odds with the utter chaos and absurdity of the content. In The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, he took this a step further, emphasising the unruffled charm and elegance of his characters in the face of even the grossest absurdity. While Bergman found in this chaotic and unreasonable life of ours spiritual pain, and also spiritual exaltation, Buñuel finds a chaotic and ridiculous mess that defies our best attempts at understanding. But nonetheless, he is charmed by the civilised elegance with which we approach it all. Even when that elegance breaks down in the face of extreme pressure.

    That, at least, is how I see it. I don't think I quite share Buñuel's cynicism, but I love his films all the same!