Saturday, November 04, 2006

Last Notes on Pasolini's Porcile

The other story in Pigsty revolves around Julian, the son of the wealthy German industrialist. It has a lot more dialogue, but that dialogue, and hence the sequence itself, is also a lot more boring. It's not just Herr Klotz's Hitler mustache that makes him a cliché; much of the conversation about the economics of post-war Germany between him and Herr Herdhitze has to be some of the cheapest satire around. The bourgeoisie are swine; capitalist pigs without an ounce of charm, discreet or otherwise. Is the movie really so lacking in subtlety? Well, perhaps not entirely. There is Julian, after all, about whom all the other characters in these scenes are at times obsessed. In conversation with Herdhitze, Klotz says about Julian:
My son was neither an obedient son nor disobedient. I and my Bertha have discussed this matter democratically. If he'd obeyed I'd have taken him under my wing… we'd have flown over Cologne's smokestacks of forges for buttons and cannons. But if he'd disobeyed me… I'd have crushed him. With a son not agreeing or disagreeing I could do nothing. God took care of it. What did he make of him? He wanted to do nothing and God let him die. He wanted to do something and God also let him live. Idleness, unemployment, exile: I don't know. Julian in his room there is an embalmed saint, neither dead nor alive. To our business!
After all the jabbering about politics and economics, I was somewhat awestruck at this monologue, with its insight into the living death that strikes so many young people in highly developed societies. Perhaps this was true even in Germany as it climbed out of the hell it made in the first half of the twentieth century.

The young woman, Ida, tries to escape this fate by her commitment to revolutionary politics, but Julian will have none of it because he is so focused on his inner life. He claims this inner life has claimed him, and yet he also seems chiefly concerned with a kind of egoistic pleasure taken from divorcing himself from the world around him.

Ida thinks he is succumbing to a form of paralysis that has grown out of his connection to his father. Julian is, in fact, eventually rendered immobile, bedridden with those inner obsessions, and when he is shown to have arisen from his sickbed he acknowledges that it was his relationship with his father that he was able to finally wake up. He then gives the following soliloquy, one of the stranger things I've heard in some time:
How strange and base my love is. I can't tell whom I love; it's of no interest. Never has an object of passion been so base. What matters are its pleasures. The profound deformation it causes in me is not desperation; if it were you'd have understood it… feeling disgust or compassion. Nothing is spent in my life. I say it without pride, stunned… with a scholar's objectivity. These pleasures are so beautiful, thrilling! Butt I can't dispel them, not even in thought. It's not something that happens with birth, with growing. There is nothing natural in it… hence I think of it always… the pleasure this love produces in me are… a grace that has struck me like the plague. Don't be amazed if with the anguish there is a constant, infinite gaiety. Should we be amazed at night by our horrible nightmares? They are the sincerity of my life. I've nothing else to combat reality with. I dreamed that I was on a dark road, full of puddles, among those puddles full of a light like the aurora borealis of the Siberian sunset, I was seeking something I can't remember, perhaps a toy. And there at the edge of the last puddle… a piglet. I approach to take him, touch him, and quickly he bites me, tears at four fingers, which were rubber. I walk around with these dangling fingers, distraught. A martyr's vocation? Who knows the truth of dreams, beyond that of making us eager for the truth?
Haunting. More than a little weird, although it gets even weirder. We are told by a group of peasants that Julian has walked into the pigsty, where we learn he has gone for refuge from human relationships, and has been (or perhaps has allowed himself to be) eaten alive. This obviously resonates with the end of the other sequence. It's all pretty messy: the description of events at the end, obviously, but also the ideological lectures, the dream narratives (as opposed to the dream landscapes of the 'primitive' sequence, and way characters seem to collide more than they interact.

Now, about that title. One possible interpretation I've been toying with is to think of the pigs in terms of their status in Judaic culture. In the movie Jews are alluded to only in the speech by Herr Klotz, but of course their very absence in post-war Germany is a kind of sign of the emptiness of the culture created in the wake of the war. What better sign to use for the decadence of the modern industrial state than the animal that best represents what isn't kosher? Of course Pasolini was a Marxist, and of course it's reflexively Marxist to refer to capitalists as "pigs", but I wonder if it doesn't go deeper than that here. Religion is as notably lacking at the modern German villa as it was present in the medieval town. All that remains are traces of a intense spiritual longing that is nourished only by an idle young man. The finger is pointed directly at the industrialists that profited during reconstruction just as they did during the war. And the spirituality that developed out of that culture is a food fit only for swine, anathema in the culture of the people who were all but wiped out of Hitler's Germany.


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