|The Exterminating Angel d. Luis Bunuel|
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
d. Luis Buñuel
Criterion Collection #459
The questions I form during the watching of any film are now inevitably phrased as inquiries for Google these days, "What is the meaning of Exterminating Angel?" is the one that came up here. By "meaning" I am talking about interpretative meaning, because the events of The Exterminating Angel are very straight forward: A group of wealthy people are gathered together for a dinner party only to find that they can't leave. We aren't told (and they don't seem to know) why they can't leave- but there is no physical reason. Instead, the bulk of the hour forty minute run top is mostly spent among the characters as they decline in physical and mental condition, while a group of onlookers gathers outside, equally unable to enter.
In the last ten minutes, the dinner party makes it out by carefully reinacting the events immediately prior to when they discovered they couldn't leave ("You play the exact song you were playing, and you say to her what you said to her then.") Our only hint of some kind of deeper interpretative meaning comes in the last five minutes where the same events begin to repeat themselves, this time inside a church and an ending of soldiers beating people in a square
The upper class/church shift and repetition of the same problem (people being unable to leave) appear to lead the viewer to an interpretation that favors an allegorical perspective, but Buñuel himself resisted attempts to give a single explanation for "Why?"
What's left is a film that plays like a surrealist/existentialist joke about the inability of certain people to do anything, and it is as apt today as it was then. A bold masterpiece indeed, if a little dull in the actual watching.