Luis Bunel is a fantastic surrealist director. He directed, if you recall, Belle du Jour. The first movie I ever saw by him was one of his first movies, Un Chein Andalou, which he directed with Salvador Dali. Just mentioning that he worked with Dali should explain something to you. As Ebert says, "Those seeking reason or explanations are in the wrong theater" (The Great Movies, web, below). Bunel directed The Exterminating Angel in 1962. It's a bizarre movie. If the mention Dali, surrealism, and lack of meaning or explanations are off putting to you, you will hate this movie. I like all of these things, so of course I found myself enjoying it.
I can't really explain the plot in a way that isn't stupid sounding. It's a movie about a group of dinner guests who find themselves trapped in a room of their hosts house. They begin going mad, becoming primitive. People die, some even kill themselves. They break through walls for water. Sheep, which were supposed to be an attraction of some kind at the party, wander into the room and are killed and roasted over broken furniture. You might wonder why they are trapped - who did it and for what reason? There isn't one. They don't know why they are trapped. They don't recall how it happened. They simply got tired and started to sleep at the house. People surround the house, but no one can get it. They walk towards it, but they all turn away. I'll spoil the plot for you since I doubt many people will rush out to see this. Days pass, although it's not clear how many. Eventually they try to recreate what happened that first night at the party. They realize that nothing is trapping them. They were just stuck there, psychologically. An invisible line. They go to a funeral to mourn those who died in this ordeal. And they then become stuck there as well. For no reason.
I don't know, something was interesting about this movie to me. Even as tired as I am from work, I still couldn't take my eyes off the screen. What was wrong with these people? It made me think of so many things at once, which is what I love about movies like this. I thought about the invisible lines we draw about buildings or rooms, just like in this movie - like how kids get afraid of certain spooky looking houses and dare each other to go in, to cross that invisible line. There is no real reason to do this, it's all psychological. This movie was like some strange adult version of that idea.
I also thought of a book by a sort of trashy author that I like, Haunted by Chuck Palahniuck. The book is obviously inspired by this movie, or I hope it is. A group of writers go on a retreat, to have silence and be free of distractions. The man who takes them there locks them in. They are at first disturbed, but then they realize the potential - book deals for memoirs. News stories. Movie adaptions. They begin to sabotage themselves. They cut off their own fingers. They ruin the food in the house. They re-trap themselves, waiting until someone comes to get them so they can tell them about their ordeal. The plot isn't too similar, but I feel like there is a connection other than being trapped. In both stories people were creating their own suffering. As if there was some need to do this, to make ourselves unhappy and panicked about something to the point where it's real for us.
I think of how petty many things that people complain about seem. Like the whole joke about first world problems. "I have two cell phones and neither of them work really well." "I get so stressed one when I pack for vacation." "I'm at a Porsche dealership and the wall color is literally inexcusable." Dude. You're lucky enough to be buying a Porsche. Let it go. The Exterminating Angel and Haunted remind me of this. We always seem to be able to find something to be unhappy about. We create our own misery. I've even been doing it. I complain about being sleepy from working but how dumb is that? I'm pretty lucky to have a job that I get to work 9 hours a day at and get paid for it. Must I complain?
I know none of this really has anything to do with the movie. But the fact that it's made me think so much is why I loved it. There isn't anything I can really explain or talk about concerning the film. I don't know why there were sheep. I don't know what that lady was going to do with the dead chicken in her purse. It doesn't matter, and I love it for that. I just wanted to write about the things that this film made me think of, the things that popped into my head right after the credits started to roll. I don't know if anything I thought of is in any way related to the movie, and it doesn't make a difference. It's wonderful. A catalyst for thought.
If you like surrealism and things with no explanation or meaning, rent this film. It's very cool if you like that, but probably pretty pointless and annoying if just reading the plot summary sounded goofy.
Have any of you seen The Exterminating Angel? Share your thoughts with me in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on The Exterminating Angel
Trailer, in Spanish with no captions