From Metaphoric Cannibalism or Bestiality to the Real Bestiality of Profit-manipulators

P.P.Pasolini’s “Pigpen”

I would like to arrive at a totally disinterested cinema, one which is completely pure… I would like to achieve greater disinterestedness, a purer relationship with the audience.
P. P. Pasolini

There are not uncultured bourgeois who are not vulgar; only culture can purify.

The cinema of poetry is the cinema which adopts a particular technique just as a poet adopts a particular technique when he writes verse. If you open a book of poetry… you can count the syllables of a verse. The equivalent of what you see in a text of poetry you can also find in cinema text, through the stylemes, i.e. through the camera movements and the montage

…physicity is poetic in itself, because it is an apparition, because it is full of mystery, because it is full of ambiguity, because it is full of polyvalent meaning, because even a tree is a sign of linguistic system. But who talks through a tree? God, or reality itself.

Having closely questioned our conscience we have decided to devour you for your disobedience. You, wife, and I are allied: you, father-mother; I, mother-father. Tenderness and hardness accompany our son. The Germany of Bonn, by God is not Hitler’s Germany! Cheeses are made, beer, buttons (the cannon industry is for export). True, Hitler was also a bit feminine, but a feminine murderer: our tradition has decidedly improved. So, the murderous mother had obedient sons with blue eyes and much desperate love, while I, affectionate mother, have this son neither obedient nor disobedient… I and my Bertha have discussed democratically this matter. If he’d obeyed I’d have taken him under my wing… we’d have flown over our Cologne’s smokestacks, forges of buttons and cannons. But if he’d disobeyed me I’d crushed him. With a son not agreeing or disagreeing I could do nothing… Having closely questioned our conscience we have decided to devour you for your disobedience.
Monologue of Herr Klotz, Julian’s father from “Pigsty”

The second episode is called Pigsty, which is the name of the whole film. This takes place in the industrialized part of Germany, at Godesberg, near Cologne, which is where Adenauer used to live, in the villa of a big German industrialist rather like Krupp, say – one of the old industrial families. This industrialist has a mysterious son. A girl is in love with the son, but the son does not reciprocate her love, although he is not in love with anybody else. He says he wants to take part in the student movement and then he doesn’t. He is 50% with the conformists and 50% with the non-conformists, so he is nothing. His father has an economic and political rival he is trying to eliminate, and through detectives he has found out that his rival was a Nazi criminal with a collection of Jewish skeletons. He is just about to eliminate him when the rival turns up at his house and tells him about his own son, because the rival had the same idea of destroying his competitor, and so he ‘d done some spying on him as well. This had revealed that the mysterious son could only have erotic relations with pigs, hence his fraudulent visits to the sty. So the two industrialists, the neo-capitalist with Nazi past and the more cultured paleo-capitalist unite and do a merger. Just at this moment the son goes off as usual to the pigsty… This is right in the middle of the merger celebrations. Some farmers appear and tell the old industrialist that the young man has been eaten by the pigs. The old man listens carefully, and when he has satisfied himself that there is absolutely nothing left, not even a button or anything like that, he says to the farmers: “All right, don’t say anything about this to anybody”, and that’s the end.
P.P.Pasolini, “Pasolini on Pasolini (Interviews with Oswald Stack)”, Indiana Univ. Pr, 1969, p. 142


Julian, the son of the richest man in Europe, enters a pigsty. In Pasolini’s film it’s not only a pigpen but a metaphor of an important aspect of modern civilization. The viewers while watching the film will come to understand – will start to worry about Julian’s destiny and more for his very life.

Here we unambiguously see a house of pigs. But sometimes it’s safer not to believe your eyes. May be, what we see, aren’t pigs at all.

Hunger and cannibalism in our past

Our prosperous democracy has a long history. Medieval world with its endless wars, epidemics, obvious inequality, poverty, hunger and superstitions, when dream for crumbs of human happiness could only survive in the heavens of our beliefs, was just one episode from our past, which Pasolini made to show the place of our historical cradle in order to sharpen the comparison between “past barbarity” and today’s (enlightened) democracy.

We see a group of people who became so desperate from chronic hunger that they succumbed to cannibalism. They kill to eat. They exist in order to chew. The closest to us in this shot is the leader of the gang (Pierre Clementi) who takes whole responsibility for his crimes and, when caught, courageously meets his punishment – without any panic or appeal to Christ for forgiveness. The person right behind him surrendered to cannibalistic temptation as to the sin (Franco Citti), and when he was sentenced to death, he instantly psychologically regresses to the condition of a child. His psychology is that of a criminal while Clementi’s character is less of a traditional mentality – he is able to see the larger (social) situation, the objective conditions of living, his intuition grasps the contours of modern idea of a “system“ that acts through individuals, not only the idea of personal motivation.

The leader of the cannibals dreams about a future society where people will have enough to eat and will never need to kill one another. Pasolini cuts/connects his gaze of the past into the future, with the castle of Herr Klotz and by this introduces (into the film) the historical perspective. We today already know that material prosperity is not an obstacle for killing others. Modern society does worse than the cannibals of the past – it kills for the sake of profits because of the “right” to explore/exploit other lands – because of the megalomania of believing that “we” are superior to other countries.

Highly intelligent and educated Julian and Ida

Julian (Jean-Pierre Leaud) and Ida (Anne Wiazemsky) are both from very rich families, they are smart, good looking and “in love with each other”. In this still, we see them in the castle of Julian‘ parents, who are also present, in Pasolini’s comic composition emphasizing the familial configuration of a happy future, after the young and beautiful ones will marry, inherit a fortune and start a new life of petals, fruits and achievements.

Julian is rich but he is not an appendix to his wealth and status of his family. He has his own worldview. His precocious mind implanted into his soul from his childhood carries the seeds of being condemned. On the surface he seems like a good catch for any young girl. But…

Ida’s beauty is a match for its particularity and uniqueness. She is like a rare flower or a ripe fruit, and with her education, intelligence, taste, tact and manners she is a great luck for any boy or man. And she is also with progressive views and is part of the youth movement. But…

They both are very verbally competent. But they both use language as a psychological defense. Ida no less than Julian suffers from megalomaniacal entrenchment that, though a phenomenon widespread in their age, is in them especially swollen – in Julian because of his particular psychological constellation, in Ida because of her frustration about Julian‘s indecisiveness. They are not able to breach each other’s otherness and be sure of their relations. Their innocent unconscious self-aggrandizement has also to do with the assimilation of a pompous European history with its global religious messianic pretensions and the “complex” of aristocratic glory. In the scene referred to in this shot, Pasolini in order to emphasize the objective historical aspect of Julian and Ida’s inflated self-importance, makes them talk while being alienated from each other by the golden carriage stored in Mr. Klotz’s castle as an antic item, and Ida’s absurd fur-coat.

Ida with a background of Julian’s parents’ castle – she doesn’t know yet that it will never be her home.

The horrifying secret Julian carries inside is a result of chronic childhood trauma due to the fact that his father and mother are who they are – cynical, rude, ordinary, cruel and indifferent to everyone. They are fascists by psychology, and this is especially terrifying because the father has the best humanistic education and has talent for writing monstrous poetry not without a chilling beauty. But why does Julian feel that the desire to kiss Ida makes him want to kill her? Is it because after knowing his family and their circle he perceives Ida’s cute innocent genuineness as a fake – he already doesn’t believe that human beings can be like her.

Julian’s Madre and Padre

Julian’s mother is charmless, without any emotional sensitivity, without any interest in life of other people. Even her worries are narcissistic. Even her concern for her son is calculation

Julian’s father’s artistic proclivities are completely solipsistic; they are merely his self-extension, without any rapport with the world. His aesthetic meditations in company of harp are cooling him after the intensity of his concentrations on his business deals.

Mr. Klotz, his financial rival Mr. Herdhitze, and Mr. Klotz’s secretary who is also Herdhitze’s secret informer

The very monstrosity of Klotz’s artistic pursuits is signified in this shot by the frightening physical ugliness of the harp looking here rather like a medieval military weapon or some kind of device for torture than a musical instrument. The physicality of harp here symbolizes, it seems, the condition of Klotz’s soul that has forgotten its humanity.

Klotz’ secretary got on his tongue a pimple signifying the fact that he lies to his patron. He (in the coming tradition of 21st century) milks several big money-cows simultaneously.

Klotz in a moment of believing that his rival Herdhitze is rendered harmless

Unexpected for Klotz (but not for his secretary) a visit from Mr. Herdhitze made Klotz not only hopeful but optimistic about the results of their fierce and furious financial duel.

Tough negotiations between Klotz and Herdhitze are in process. But for whom is the extra chair? – For us, the viewers, who have a choice: to support the merge Herdhitze presses Klotz to accept by blackmailing him, or to disapprove the deal and Herdhitze’s methods of getting what he wants?

Here is the moment that decides everything, the destiny of Klotz, Herdhitze (Ugo Tognazzi) and Julian, and metaphorically, the historical destiny of humankind and the future generations. In this scene we see Herdhitze’s fatal blow at Klotz’s simplemindedness – the underestimation of his opponent who is much more ruthless than Klotz is – who will demand ultimate sacrifice as a condition for the deal. He is not like Klotz who forgot about his humanity. He is beyond it – he is a robot of profits, a computer of calculation and manipulation. For Herdhitze hate, torture and murder, like for Faulkner’s character Flem Snopes, are just strategic or tactical adaptation to the necessity to survive by any price during tough times.

How ideological myths are created

Julian’s frightening gesture (he makes before Ida), which simultaneously reveals and hides the truth about his psychological secret, is echoed…

… by Herdhitze’s gesture suggesting to the simpleton-workers not to say a word to anybody about Julian’s disappearance in the pigpen right in the same day when the great merge between Klotz’s and Herdhitze’s enterprises/empires was celebrated.

By pressing Klotz to get rid of his son, Herdhitze secures his co-ownership of Klotz’s factories, farms, mines and property.

Marrachione (Ninetto Davoli) is an Italian agricultural worker for Herr Klotz. Like Davoli’s many other characters in Pasolini’s films, Marrachione is a personification of narcissistic simplemindedness of many poor people who are unconsciously blocking their ability to think about life (not to feel too frustrated) and then taking surface of events for their essence. The same character (a kind of medieval Marrachione) appears in a parallel segment of the film where he is unable to grasp the behavior of the cannibals and implies that they are “agents of devil”. He doesn’t understand that murder without cannibalism can be much more serious crime. Marrachione reports to his masters (about Julian having been eaten by the pigs) with a wooden naiveté of a person who “thinks” in mythical categories, like, for example, many poor ultra-conservatives in formal democracies today.


What to do if you already in early adolescence came to the realization that your parents – in their emotional posture vis-à-vis life, in how they view others and the world (that always has to be at the disposal of their appetites like bacon or the potty) and see themselves at its very center (always ready to grab, masticate and digest their surrounding), are… pigs, that their human appearance is only a trick, an aesthetic convention? It is exactly the predicament in which the son of an exemplarily wealthy German couple (Herr Klotz and his wife Bertha) found himself when his brain started to make “abstract” (reflective) associations and conclusions. Upon awakening of his ability to brood about life Julian Klotz started to feel himself, as if, locked within a pigsty of his destiny, like homo-sacers in concentration camps, and this in spite of living in a parental castle of luxury with servants, cooks and guards amidst the vast land around. Julian was a smart child, observant and curious, but the truth he discovered destroyed his pleasure of belonging to financial elite (being enveloped in its high status as arch-bishop in his vestment). He came to feel himself as much of a pig as his parents except they were without any awareness of their condition. Now, Julian felt stripped of inexhaustible narcissism he enjoyed before. Julian lived during the time of sixties when in the West – mass cultural agenda of “benign” psychological regression into childishness, naiveté, impulsivity, sentimentality and belief that human decency is achievable just by showing your good intention to be decent, was flattering young people and distracting them from the complexities of the real problems. So, by coming to the tormenting conclusion about his parents, Julian became a pariah in the moment when he marginalized the people of his parents’ social stratum as the “immoral” dirty pigs. By his very suffering he became victim of human swinishness much before he was physically sacrificed by the human pigs as a “pervert who is bad for publicity”.

Julian’s pseudo-sexual fixation on the pigs and the pigsty (his unconscious metaphors of his parents and their bedroom and castle) is in no way a “naturalistic” desire, problem of sexual deviation for the technicians of superficial psychiatric diagnosis – people don’t become “deviants” mechanically, without involvement of their cognitive function, without forming ideas about reality. By a unique system of images (in “Pigpen”) Pasolini recreates/constructs Julian’s unconscious and repeats its semantic structure in parallel part of the film dedicated to the medieval cannibals. Like Julian became a pseudo-bestial, tormented by hunger the hero of the parallel part became a pseudo-cannibal. It is his understanding of the inhumane and cruel social order sacrificing human beings to idols of monarchy, aristocracy and church (cannibalizing human beings by wars and poverty and their souls by the worship of idols of heavenly and earthly authorities) – what made his intuition perform the same metaphoric reduction to the essence, as Julian’s intuition made from “human pigs” to literary pigs. In other words, as a child Julian made the logical reduction between personal relationships (debased by profit-by-any-price orientation) and sexual relations as predatory adults would have it, whereas the medieval cannibal – between the morally cannibalistic social relations and his personal crime of physical cannibalism.

What Pasolini “models” on the unconscious/intuitive psycho-gesture of the two characters in his film (Julian as a pseudo-pervert and the hero of the medieval part as a pseudo-cannibal) is a paradigmatic metaphoric operation of human creative reflex (and of the intellectual cinematic art) that can be called a metaphorization of essence into a (visual) image. This operation is different from regular associative thinking in cinema – from one phenomenon to the other – from one element of the plot to the other, when “thinking” is reduced to borrowed clichés. Metaphorization of essence includes the unconscious interpretation of what is perceived as an essence of certain phenomenon or situation – before its metaphorization into visual image may take place. In other words, “cannibal” didn’t really become a cannibal because of chronic hunger but because his intuition was trying to “formulate” through his existential actions his impressions about how his society treats its people. The same with Julian who at first was suppose to come to the conclusion that his father and mother are as disgusting as pigs, before he could make a choice between pig in a human form and a pig as created by god. Pigs as God’s creation are perceived by Julian as superior creatures than human pigs as a pernicious deviation from what the human being created by God supposed to be. The cannibal also prefers to be a cannibal than to fight for “survival” according to existing social rituals and be ready to kill, betray and lie in order to get advantage over others. Bestiality and cannibalism in the film can be called behavioral metaphors of a certain politico-moral essence (discovered by the two young men, heroes of the film about social life of different historical periods as they observed it). Intellectual art (including cinema) learns the operation of metaphorization of the essence from the human intuition. In “Pigsty” Pasolini not only shows how ideas and images are created, but shows the carriers of this creative operation in his two main protagonists, Julian and his medieval predecessor. More, he compares their style of thinking which is completely existential and based on the reaction of human psychological wholeness, with technical manipulative thinking of people like Herdhitze, Klotz, today’s expert-specialists, technicians of technology and financial manipulators.

Such intellectual metaphors of pseudo-bestiality and pseudo-cannibalism are, psychoanalytically speaking, Julian’s or the hero’s of the second part of the film interpretations of their locked destinies (to be born from pigs and to die of hunger and humiliation, inequality and injustice, correspondingly) and, simultaneously, their cognitive attempts to improve their destiny when “improvement” is even more tragic (these two young people are too deprived of humane treatment to find real way out). The essence of Julian’s intuitive logic is that if it is possible to be a monstrous pig in a human form, may be, it is also possible to be less piggish and closer to human condition in natural pig form. Like the cannibal is absurdly revolutionary insisting on the sacred human right not to be abused by the system, Julian is even more absurdly reformist. When, because of the absence of noble identifications with decent adults, vices and crimes become the only ways for the young people to reach self-realization, everything becomes distorted and nothing means anything – semantic chaos is the result. Cannibalism becomes more moral than career in church, the company of pigs – more normal than the company of humans.

The striking feature of Pasolini’s film is the comparison of how language was used in a medieval countryside and during democratic prosperity of the post-WW2 period. The theme of medieval life is represented by the method of silent movie – there are some verbal exchanges but the viewers don’t need to hear them – the meaning of words is dissolved in the reality of living. But the reality of a democratic life is depicted as noisy trajectories of, mainly, meaningless and vain talks crossing one another. When verbal communications do make sense for the interlocutors the dialogues are, mainly, vicious and manipulative (as between Herdhitze and Klotz). But talks between Julian and Ida are senseless and wasteful, an abuse of verbal function. Since the medieval times the impressive development of language in all the areas of culture and civilization not only didn’t help to achieve human liberation from the forces of power and manipulation, but didn’t make human understanding more efficient and rooted in life. In this sense it’s very symptomatic when Herr Klotz mentions the names of Georg Grosz and Berthold Brecht. Even treasures of intellectual experiences are not capable of be incarnated into mass consciousness while even some fascist figures who obviously culturally competent (Herr Klotz) are not influenced by the truths about themselves that they know very well – they don’t change their vicious and criminal ways under the influence of cultural understanding. One of the lessons of Pasolini’s “Pigsty” is that real culture can tragically co-exist with a fascist sensibility without producing even a spark, even a shadow of incompatibility with it. It happens when the chance to make profit, reach higher social status or even just make living contradict the truth.

In both tales of the film Pasolini emphasizes how difficult it is for the young people to find real solution to their difficulties without modern humanistic education, when human cognition is impregnated with imaginary and are not able to understand the reality and discover its alternatives. In this situation the very concept of historical future loses its sense. But young people need future like an air; they are, psychologically, inhabitants and citizen of the future. They cannot live locked in the present. Then they go mad. According to “Pigpen”, today’s despotic reality rips away the future from the young, like in the medieval world did the very contrast between Churches and the Castles on the one side and the burned grass, the barren rocks and the peasant shacks on the other.

Posted on Dec 6 2014 –   “Pigpen/Pigsty/La Porcile” (1969) By Pier Paolo Pasolini  by Acting-Out Politics