The top ten digitally downloaded songs for the week of September 21, 2013.
Wake Me Up!
Robin Thicke Featuring T.I. + Pharrell
Jay Z Featuring Justin Timberlake
Lana Del Rey & Cedric Gervais
Drake Featuring Majid Jordan
Hold On, We're Going Home
So, let’s not even bother to focus on the scenes of Salò where the people are forced to eat shit. We consume shit every day, if only metaphorically. Added to the above, Jesus Calling and Proof of Heaven are two books riding a multi-week spot in the top ten non-fiction list. Judge Judy sits at number two on the syndicated television list. How many examples must be provided before this dead horse has been effectively flogged?
While those scenes were repugnant I don’t believe they were the most significant in the film. One of the more interesting elements that stand out in Pier Paolo Pasolini's allegorical tale of fascism is the movement of the characters within the rigid power structure. Initially we have the four libertines, or unshakable authority figures, the Duke, the Bishop, the Magistrate and the President. Under them we have the arm of authority, the collaborators or guards. There are the servants who run the household. These people are almost part of the physical structure of the palace. Perhaps not even people at all but the machinery of an industrial society. Finally, there are the victims of the movie, the general populace, represented by 18 kidnapped boys and girls (all probably skirting being underage, if such a thing could matter at this point). There are also four prostitutes but these serve mainly as a narrative device and don’t seem to represent anything beyond that.
From scene to scene these three levels of power remain in force between the characters. While the upper echelon never changes, we do see characters move between the other two classes. Young boys who are amenable to the homosexual proclivities of the leaders are given certain extra perks, freedoms and even affection if such a thing is possible in this film.
The way the common people respond to fascist authority is striking during the final sequences, The Circle of Blood. The Bishop discovers one of the children breaking one of the rather loosely explained rules. In an attempt to gain favor with the authority figures a daisy-chain of finger-pointing begins which culminates in the discovery of one of the guards having sex with one of the female servants.
The couple is summarily shot.
It’s worth noting that the guards were never instructed that they were to follow the arbitrary rules. Also, this couple is not the only one caught engaged having sex, during the series of tattletales two of the female captives were also caught in the act. The girls were not shot.
Interestingly, the guard and the maid is the only instance of consensual, heterosexual sex in the movie.
There are three other hetero scenes:
One:: A guard knocks down a woman serving dinner and rapes her anally before the Bishop demands to take her place.
Two:: After the forced wedding of two of the children one of the libertines performs oral sex on the bride.
Three:: The Duke brings a girl into an antechamber and makes her piss on his face and open mouth.
None of which are consensual, nor do they involve straight intercourse. The guard and the maid apparently didn’t realize the missionary position was a death sentence.
Following this the libertines, one at a time, watch the torture and execution of the commoners in the courtyard of the palace. But not all of the commoners are to be victims. Some have served their masters so well that they escape this final fate. They have become, in essence, collaborators themselves. As the rulers, and by extension us, watch the tragedy enfold we are obliged to wonder how many of the killers below were members of the general populace. Initially there were only eight collaborators, yet two are in the viewing room, one was shot and there are more than five others in the courtyard enacting the sadistic denouement of the movie.
The tortures that unfold are by no means exemplary or cunning, one girl is hanged, and another child is scalped. For aficionados of the horror genre this scene might appear quite tame, but then is Salò a horror movie. It is certainly horrific, but to classify it as horror would be incorrect.
Is it art? If the role of art is to hold a mirror to society and challenge the viewer as to their own moral values, then yes. If the role of art is to depict kittens in cute poses, then no.
The final question is, does the message of Salò remain prevalent despite the lack of fascist Italy as a setting? Certainly. Even if the specific power cliques the libertines represent are no longer in existence the relationship between the rulers and the ruled will always be a one of power issues and exploitation.