Pasolini’s films were usually brilliant, but rarely easy to watch. They were not designed as entertainment, but to make a point, usually political, and even then don’t ever go straight to it, but leave it up to the viewer to interpret. Some of his films were extremely graphic – his final film, Salo, was based on de Sade and was particularly difficult to watch. He was murdered soon after that one was released, so who knows what might have come next?
The opening credits roll over some very cute pigs in a sty, although they are not a major part of the rest of the movie, until the end. I guess for Pasolini they represent the European bourgeoisie, which I think is appallingly offensive. To the pigs.
Two separate stories are being told, interwoven. Segments of one are followed by the other, or sometimes the same one again. One story is set in 1967 and is about a German industrialist who looks a lot like Hitler, his son Julian, described by his mother as a “Mannerist San Sebastian”, and his radical fiancée Ida who joins protests to piss on the Berlin wall.
Julian will not go with her to the wall, nor even kiss her – he becomes catatonic after telling her that he has another love. Turns out to be the pigs in the porcile (sty). He prefers them to the hedonistic existence of his father who makes an alliance with an old rival, Herr Herdhitzel, even though he knows of that rival’s involvement in the Holocaust, and could destroy him.
The locals arrive to tell of Julian’s fate, eaten by the pigs. Like Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, Julian is eaten by those he loved, or lusted after, or ate.
But the industrialist doesn’t want to spoil the celebrations, and tells the locals:
The other is set sometime in the middle ages (judging by the weapons and armour) and in a volcanic waste-land. A young man, called only “the young cannibal”, wanders around catching and eating whatever he can find, including lone soldiers.
He joins up with other brigands who wander the smoking hills catching, killing and eating, throwing their victims heads into the volcano. When he is caught and prepares to be executed, tied down to four wooden stakes and left for the wild dogs to tear to pieces, he utters the words for which the film is most famous:
The young cannibal is a mirror image of Christ, killing his father instead of being killed, tied to the ground instead of raised on a cross, quivering with joy instead of asking why he has been forsaken. For Nietzsche, God is dead. For Pasolini, we have eaten him.
Cannibalism is usually defined as the eating of human flesh by humans. There are a lot of grey areas (and pink ones when pigs are involved). We eat them, they eat us, we eat each other. It’s about greed and power, and is the same whoever is eating or being eaten. Julian’s father sums it up: