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The Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s controversial film, Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975) is probably one of the most striking films ever with its several disturbing sexual and violent imagery. The film is based on 18th century French libertine Marquis de Sade’s book, The 120 Days of Sodom. The book is about 4 libertines holding up several slaves for 4 months in a castle in order to experience the sexual gratification without boundaries which contains sado-masochistic attitudes. Pasolini, transposes the book to Mussolini’s Italy in 1944. Therefore Sade’s libertine novel becomes an extreme critique of fascism and leads the audience to think about the problem of evil.
The movie consists of four parts: Anti inferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. In Anti inferno we see the kidnapped men and women taken to a palace and four powerful men, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President chooses 18 of them (9 of each sex) as their victims. The victims are basically for this 4 men to give them pleasure by any means. There is no hope for escape, no freedom, no laws, no morality, no nothing for victims, all promised is death in the end. Victims are definitely forbidden to attend any kind of religious behavior and sexual intercourse with each other. Thus we clearly see how individuality is completely erased by once being defined as a victim.
The sexuality in the film is without any kind of intimacy and eroticism, only based on 4 fascist’s sexual desires. The degradation of human as a whole and using the human body only as a mediation of pleasure are quite disturbing and since there are no boundaries, the audience has to bear literally intolerable scenes of rape, torture, blood, eating feces, etc. throughout the film.
The extreme imagery of the film points out how far human can go when he holds the power or in other words when violence is legitimate. But the striking part of this film is that Pasolini is not just focusing on the power holder while criticizing fascism. He approaches to the issue from the other side as well, by pointing out victim’s “immoral” behavior when they have the chance to save themselves. So the film evokes the questions such as, is anything acceptable when one’s own being is under threat, namely in times of crisis? Does the victim has the right to do anything when he has the chance to save his own life? Where does the border appear between being the fascist and the victim?
Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom is an intense film focusing on the problem of evil and fascism, though it is hard to watch. But maybe just because it is shocking, it is a must-see film.
There is one last thing to draw attention. Ironically, a short time after the release of Salo, Pasolini was murdered by being run over several times with his own car on November 2, 1975. It is notable that one day before his death, Furio Colombo interviewed with him and the title of the interview was “We Are All In Danger”.