Luis Buñuel: The Exterminating Angel

So, I was thinking what might make a good Thanksgiving post. Finally, it hit me! Let this dinner party gone terribly wrong be a lesson to you all as you gather with your families and friends for the holiday!

When I first watched The Exterminating Angel, I was still new to the Luis Buñuel game and had no knowledge about the film or its famous (I see now) concept. The Exterminating Angel is the second film in a type of trilogy that also includes Viridiana (which I posted about here) and Simon of the Desert (which I will post about sometime soon). And sure, the three films have some similar themes, but it seems the primary reason they are a trilogy is because each was 1) directed by Buñuel, 2) starred Silvia Pinal, and 3) was produced by Pinal’s then-husband Gustavo Alatriste (each film also has a role for Claudio Brook, but until Simon of the Desert his roles are relatively small). After Viridiana, which was filmed in Spain, caused so much controversy, Buñuel went to Mexico to continue his creating his inflamatory work.

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We don’t reenact the First Supper or force an early Christian saint from his pedestal into a 1960s disco, but this is still a nicely strange story that, in the end, is not all that kind to a certain type of mindless group-think (and, we can deduce from the scene in which a group of sheep enter a church to the sound of gunshots on the street, religion and those who govern it or use it to govern). It’s safe to say that after Viridiana, Buñuel could not have made this film in Spain.

The plot itself is fairly simple; indeed, the original title, The Outcasts of Providence Street, says much. After a night at the opera, members of the high society gather for dinner. As the movie begins, almost all of the servants leave for inexplicable reasons. They just feel the need to leave the home they work at, the home that happens to be located here:

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The dinner goes well enough, and the guests get together for a bit of light entertainment. Here’s Pinal, not feeling as chipper as the other guests, just for your benefit:

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It gets later. The host begins to wonder why no one is leaving. It’s actually becoming quite rude. Then the guests, tired now that it’s early morning, start to remove their coats. What is going on, the host thinks, but not wanting to make anyone feel awkward he just removes his coat too. Everyone finds a spot on the floor for sleep. The next morning, everyone is slightly embarrassed, but, hey, it was certainly fun and interesting, definitely spontaneous. But still no one leaves; they make for the door when some thought causes them to turn back.

There is no physical barrier. It is some psychological block. The doctor begins to see what is going on, and soon everyone realizes the group’s plight. But not even with this knowledge can anyone summon the will to leave the room. Civility breaks down.

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Meanwhile, the servants return to the street in front of the house only to find they cannot enter the house. No one can. Soon there is a host of people on the outside trying to help. A helpful suggestion: perhaps we could put up some loud speakers to let the people on the inside know we are out here trying to help. But the suggestion, which seems to make sense, is also ridiculous — why not just go use the front door?

It’s a brilliant satire!

Buñuel’s shots heighten the sense of the absurd. Some of those stuck in the room begin to hallucinate, and tempers shorten until it’s almost savage and they start looking to superstitions to fix the situation. All leads to a thought-provoking and controversial ending.

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So, be wary tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “Luis Buñuel: The Exterminating Angel

  1. Great stuff, Trevor. I haven’t seen this, but I will get round to it soon I hope. How many satirical filmmakers are there now? Can we class people like Baumbach as such? What happens when Woody Allen is no longer with us to wryly chart the age?

  2. One of great films of it time I have a copy that was given away free a few years ago ,I was remind of it when I read hundred brothers by Antrim earlier this year the way that spiralled into chaos rather like this film ,all the best stu

  3. I’ve heard of this but haven’t seen it. It does sound fantastic. I’ve never seen any Bunuel, which is a definite failing as I suspect I’d like him a great deal.

    Lee, I saw Yorgos Lanthimos’s Dogtooth recently which is a sort of satire on the family and the status it’s given culturally (and on questions of authority perhaps more widely). That might be worth checking out if you’ve not seen it.

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