“Oedipus Rex”examines the relationships between the young generations and systems of power at various periods of Western history. Taking the tragedy by Sophocles as a semantic skeleton of his film, Pasolini adds to the Greek play historical perspective – he assembles the scenes that took place in Ancient Greece with life during fascist period in Italy and with what happens to Oedipus during the post-WW2 Italian “economic miracle”. Pasolini emphasizes the historical universality of Oedipus’ predicaments. By doing this incredible semantic/stylistic equilibristic – tripartite concept of human history, Pasolini returns science-fictional paradigm of time-travel from being part of the content of art to where it belongs – to its form. From the epoch of Italian fascism the hero is “transferred” by the director to Ancient Greece and from there to Italian democratic post-modernity.

Pasolini dedicates the film to the analysis of how the youth in different epochs relates to the truth about societal life (how much or how little young people are able to understand about how the system functions and how they are mistreated at the hands of the elder generations), and with what tricks and tactics the systems of domination make it impossible for the young to understand what life and human relations in the society are really about. Through particular images and twists of the plot Pasolini enumerates five strategies of distorting truth by the system which makes it impossible for the youth to reach rational understanding of the social reality.

Truth without explanation and prediction without validation – the dogmatic (authoritarian) truths of the ancient oracles and prophets and today’s conservative propagandists alike explain reality through the expecting/forecasting crimes of victims of socio-political system,not through the crimes of those who rule over life. Oedipus is transformed into a criminal not only because he was abused by the hate of his father and not protected against this hate by his mother but also because how his predicaments were formulated by the systemic reason (ideologically functioning culture). According to Pasolini, condemnation of Oedipus by gods/destiny is the equivalent of being sacrificed by the system that understands crime as a personal transgression of Laws, taboos, and rules of idolized social hierarchy – not as internalization of system’s values of rivalry, competition, fight for self-enrichment and success, and also of greed, megalomania and belligerency.

Pasolini operates with different types of images depicting human reactions – for example, images registering not just reaction on circumstances but human reactions as that of people’s psychological wholeness (when reaction is semantically loaded and seems inadequate for simpleminded – based only on cause-effect connection, perception), or images with symbolic connotations making them archetypal, like that of Oedipus biting the back of his hand (his palm-his destiny) when he feels trapped in it, or that of the waves of blind fury in Oedipus are represented as moments of being blinded by the sun, as in his childhood he was, as if, blinded by the gaze of his father. Pasolini has a unique ability to root ideas in stylistic configurations and effects.

“Oedipus Rex” is stylistically and intellectually like a unique organism – there is no other film in the history of cinema (including Pasolini’s other films) like this. The style of the film is uniquely created for expressing the chronic abuse of younger generations in human history.

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“Oedipus Rex” as a rare historical film (combining various historical periods in relation to the same character who in real life couldn’t be living in all of them). Pasolini represents fascism as a certain style of treating human beings which he defines as, tragically, the very cradle of human history. The film starts not with Ancient Greece, but with Mussolini’s Italy. The Greek – enlarged part of the film (based on Sophocles’ play), and then – our European post-modernity, follow. Fascism, according to the film, is for human history what human unconscious is for individual psyche.

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That’s how Oedipus’ father Laos (a prototypical abuser of the male off-springs) looked in his old age, with eyes that are simultaneously frightened and frightening, the eyes of wary warrior which know how death looks.

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Oedipus as a king, as if, trying to out-do and out-power his father through the tallness of his “crown” (symbolizing the phallic might as a signifier of an irrational drive to subdue, to kill, to rule – the modern equivalent of which for human psychology today is the destructive power of missiles to menace, intimidate and kill and money to seduce, corrupt, dictate and manipulate)

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Oh, if only our peaceful intentions as we formulate them were enough to create and sustain peace. When we proclaim our goodness and peacefulness our noble statements always include conditions and additions which make wars inevitable.

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Merope, Oedipus’ adoptive – loving mother (Alida Walli) whose genuine desire for Oedipus’ happiness is helpless to protect him from his foretold destiny, as any mother’s love is powerless in front of aggressive intensity of the conditions of our life

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Oedipus birth mother Jocasta (Silvana Mongano) cannot believe in the intensity of her husband’s (Oedipus’ father) desire to make love again and again. But his sexual tirelessness has nothing to do with love or even with sex. In fascist conditions of life it is the aggressive drive that activates sexual desire, the motivation to outperform competitors, to self-assert, to impose oneself on the world, to “mark and enlarge my territory’.

Posted on Apr, 28 2012 –   Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Edipo Re”/”Oedipus Rex” (1967) – Knowledge without Explanation Is Directed Against Those Who Need Knowledge The Most by Acting-Out Politics