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The 120 Days Of Sodom

The 120 Days Of Sodom

By Patrick Samuel • November 3rd, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Les Productions Artistes Associés

Original release: November 22nd, 1975
Running time: 116 minutes

Country of origin: Italy, France
Original language: Italian, French, German

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Writers: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Sergio Citti

Cast: Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Cataldi, Umberto Paolo Quintavalle, Aldo Valletti

The 120 Days of Sodom

In existentialism it’s said that our existence precedes our essence. What this means is that we must first be born and then as we move through life we create our own values and determine a meaning for our lives because at the start we’re nothing but a tabula rasa, a blank slate.

This idea, which can be found in the works of 19th century philosophers Søren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger, as well as the 20th century philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, is one that completely does away with many traditional views such as God and human nature. What it leaves us with is the notion that not only are we alone, but we’re responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and actions. In existentialism, there is no human nature because there’s no God to instil it within us.

With this in mind, when we view the many atrocities we see in the world it’s very hard to reconcile them with the idea that some people are just born bad. Somewhere along the way they make a choice, or perhaps several, that determines the rest of their lives. In every sense, they’re defined by their actions, not their essence, as we all are. How then do we view the actions of the characters we encounter in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò? Are they bound by the same existentialist notions or something else entirely?

The 120 Days of Sodom

Based on the 1785 novel The 120 Days Of Sodom by Marquis de Sade and inspired by Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy, the film takes us from 18th century France to the last days of Mussolini’s regime in the Republic of Salò, the Fascist-occupied portion of Italy in 1944. It’s here that four wealthy, corrupted fascist libertines kidnap eighteen teenage boys and girls and subject them to 120 days of extreme violence, sadism, and sexual and mental torture.

To initiate their debauched ritual, the Duke (Paolo Bonacelli), the Bishop (Giorgio Cataldi), the Magistrate (Umberto Paolo Quintavalle) and the President (Aldo Valletti) agree to marry each other’s daughters. They then chose four young men to act as guards and another four are chosen as studs because of the favourable penis size. Their victims are then taken to a palace near Salò where four middle-aged prostitutes recounts erotic stories about men in power who sexually exploit others.

During the 120 days, the four men come up with increasingly horrific ways to past the time. In one scene a young girl enters the dining room to serve food, but she’s deliberately tripped by one of the studs who then proceeds to rape her in front of a crowd of onlookers. The 120 Days of Sodom The girl’s cries are laughed at by the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President, as well as the prostitutes and the guards. What happens next is the President, a gross and scrawny middle-aged man, undoes his belt and lowers trousers to bare his ass for each and every person to see. He then gleefully takes his position on the floor next to the girl and the young stud mounts him.

After this incident we see two of the captives forced to marry each other. During the ceremony the Magistrate fondles the male slaves and the prostitutes before engaging in a 5-way with the President and the Duke. These acts only become more and more degrading as the film progresses but Salò takes its time to explore it in detail using static and still cameras to capture it all. Pasolini doesn’t speed through anything and leaves nothing to the imagination with full frontal male and female nudity, yet the film isn’t one that can be described as erotic or sexy. Instead it’s a slow, painful and sad tale about a group of people who’ve become desensitized by acts of cruelty, violence, rape, sadism and torture. They engage in it and they watch it but they barely raise an eyebrow. It’s meaningless, they could be doing anything else (and yet here they are). For them it’s almost as if it’s all so passé.

As we become voyeurs of the voyeurs, it’s almost as if Pasolini is asking us to consider if we too have suffered the same fate as we view his film. Whatever his intentions while making Salò, that other question still remains, do the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate, the President, the prostitutes and some of the male captives exhibit signs of being evil of nature? Or have they just chosen to be? As with any other work of art, Salò remains highly subjective and the answer lies more with who’s viewing it rather than somewhere in the film itself. There are those who detest it, those who love it and those who’d say it have some value for the way it makes us question the idea and root of evil, as well as our objections to it.

The 120 Days of Sodom

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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