“All’s good if it’s excessive”: ‘Salo or the 120 days of Sodom’ Review
Salo or the 120 days of Sodom, the legendary Italian director’s final film, remains to this day one of the most controversial films ever created. What’s shocking about Salo, aside from the fact that its Pasolini’s loose adaptation of the Marquis de Sade’s explosive and highly incendiary work of the same name is how much the film is at odds with itself; this is a film that is incredibly graphic and pornographic but at the same time some of the issues that it touches upon are incredibly powerful and terrifying. The themes that the film explores make the horror all the more unsettling and truly unforgettable as this film has images that you will never be able to forget.
The main story, which Pasolini updated to Fascist ruled Salo during World War II, is divided into four circles of Hell (direct references to Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”) and tells of the kidnapping of 18 youths (both male and female) by the Fascist government to be locked away in a house and bear to participate in all kinds of mental, sexual and physical torture. A lot of what makes Salo so incredibly terrifying and utterly disgusting, aside from the acts that you’re seeing, is the bluntness and casual matter of the fact that Pasolini shoots these scenes. It remains a force to be reckoned with; this is a film that you just cant believe what you’re seeing is being screened at in a motion picture.
One of the many reasons why Salo is so effective at being this hellish nightmare is its theme of a corrupt political power at its most abusive and using that power for evil against youth and innocent people. And Pasolini doesn’t shy away from making this also kind of an incendiary and highly controversial commentary on the nature of evil and the abuse of power which at odds kind of just clashes with the hugely exploitative scenes of torture or just horrible and disgusting stuff being done to people.
There are films that are considered kind of a one and done – which means that as good or bad as they are, you only need that one time watching it in your life and that’s it. Salo or the 120 days of Sodom is certainly one of those films. This is a film that makes its point incredibly bluntly, but that graphic nature is completely purposeful. As much as you would like to think that you can handle a film like Salo The truth is you can’t. Nothing on this earth will prepare you for Pasolini’s highly controversial film. It demands you to look away during scenes. Do I need to watch this again? No. Is there something interesting that Pasolini is saying with this film? Yes. Can I even recommend this film? I don’t even know. It’s not made for me, but this is a document that is an explosive piece of an auteur going out of his way to showcase human depravity. There’s a reason why a label like the Criterion Collection released this but will I ever watch this again? No.