Synopsis: Terence Stamp stars in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s award-winning and controversial film as a strange visitor who suddenly drops into the lives of an extremely bourgeois family. He plays both God and Devil as he proceeds to seduce each member of the house including the maid. His divine and diabolical interaction with each character causes them to re-evaluate their belief systems and just as suddenly as he appears, he’s gone.
eyelights: its core concept. its surrealistic quality.
eyesores: its narrative structure. its editing. it incoherent finale.
“You certainly came here to destroy.”
A stranger comes to your home and manifests a seductive power over your household. After enthralling everyone, he departs, leaving your family forever changed.
Was this person an angel or a devil?
Such is basic premise of ‘Teorema’, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s enigmatic 1968 motion picture, which has confounded audiences and critics alike upon since its release.
It’s a very simple film from a plot standpoint, in that there is very little dialogue (only 923 words, according to its tagline!); most of the film is set in silence.
But it’s its meaning that makes it complex, in that it’s hard to decypher exactly what Pasolini wanted to convey, despite his film’s socio-political commentary.
Is the stranger a corrupting or freeing influence?
If he is a corruptor, then why would the maid find divinity?
If he is a liberator, then why would the daughter and father go mad?
Since sex plays a major part in the proceedings, is sex corruption or liberation? Since the family is wealthy, is Pasolini condemning the acquisition of wealth?
This is significant in the fact that each family member is seduced by, then confesses to the stranger, before then going through an irreversible transformation.
Have they lost their (artificial) sense of self after being freed of their pretenses by the stranger? Or have they been deeply stained by their encounter with him?
What confuses matters is that ‘Teorema’ begins with b&w TV news footage of workers relating that their boss has given them his factory, freed them of his influence.
This suggests that the act was a good thing, and yet all the changes that the family members undergo, including the father/factory owner, are deeply traumatic.
So what was Pasolini trying to say?
One would be quick to assume that he created the stranger as a sort of avenging angel, to right the wrongs of the rich so that the poor may ultimately benefit.
This would explain why the maid, the lower class, would find divinity in the process. But she loses her grip on reality and her fate isn’t quite what we’d call auspicious.
Plus which, if he’s an avenging angel, then why would homosexuality and promiscuity be outcomes of the stranger’s influence? Does Pasolini consider this immoral?
Since Pasolini was gay, showed more male nudity (including full frontal) than female nudity, and subtly showed gay sex here, one would suppose he didn’t think so.
So this implies that he created the stranger as a liberator, that allowing the characters to fully express their sexual identities what a good thing, not a bad one.
But then, why the madness and self-destruction?
We could go around in circles for ages, so it’s no wonder that ‘Teorema’ has remained inscrutable for nearly 50 years. It’s likely also what makes it so fascinating.
After all, there’s nothing more compelling than art that makes its audience reflect and reconsider, so the picture’s ambiguity only serves to add to its allure.
Granted, ‘Teorema’ is imperfect: it was made on a low budget, the editing is peculiar and the dubbing is crap. But all this is outweighed by the picture’s merits.
In the end, ‘Teorema’ imprints upon you a number of unforgettable images and leaves you with a veritable feast for fodder – and to discuss with friends.
I look forward to watching it again.
Date of viewing: March 12, 2017