Pier Paolo Pasolini, “Theorem” (1968), Subtitles ENG

The members of an outstanding but ordinary family receive each personally a spiritual revelation in this unique film that itself becomes a cinematographic vehicle for these revelations. Under the influence of the sacred the heroes of the film became more human – their human identities are transformed into a kind of “holy organisms”. They start to live and breathe as beings who heard the call of spiritual reality. They became more self-introspective, less conformist and socio-morphic.

While the film‘s protagonists are shaken and forever transformed by enigmatic spiritual message, Pasolini deploys his film for the purpose of making the viewers also to go through a psychological mutation under its aesthetic guidance. That makes “Theorem” a highly unusual work of art – more than just a work of art. Pasolini juxtaposes modern life with its noisy competitiveness and political frustration on all sides with Biblical and mythological references, and forces the viewers to become human beings of all times without losing particularity and concreteness of their circumstantial and historical destiny.

In the film, non-didactic fragments from the Old Testament are perceived as a part of today’s discourse addressing real human worries and concerns. But by providing viewers with the images of spiritual sensitivity as tools for our perception Pasolini involves us into spiritual conversion he depicts.

How can an angel designed not for the imagination of small children (including adults), but in a context of taking god not as a Santa Claus but as a real challenge to human fallen condition, look? Pasolini… answers this question by introducing the main character of the film (his angelism is, of course, free from any bird-wings associations and completely connotative). In “Theorem” Pasolini depicts human problems not as a part of profane (fallen) reality but as they could be seen in the realm of spiritual reality. Today’s problems everybody can relay to, are shown as profane only by their content but on the level of form they’re transformed by Pasolini not only into an aesthetic, but into a sacred reality. This daring experiment on part of Pasolini verifies the unique standing of “Theorem” in the history of intellectual cinema. The sacred as a frame of reference right in front of our very eyes became, as if, realized as our, the viewers’, own perception of our own falleness and our ability to transcend it (through Pasolini’s cinematic vision).

We see how members of a wealthy family under the influence of the presence of an angel-like figure (staying as a guest in their house) are awakened to their real human identities (which are always rooted in the sacred archetypes of humankind but function according to the social standards like puppets of ideological conformism). Unexpectedly each member of the family started to take his/her lives seriously and meaningfully, as “god expects them to”. They started to respect their “true selves” and care about real needs of other people.

The exemplary philistine family (the father-industrialist (Massimo Girotti), the mother-beauty (Silvana Mangano), the son burdened by complexes and obsessions (Andres Jose Cruz Soublette), the daughter (Anne Wiazemsky) waiting not for the prince charming but for the savior of her being, and the maid (Laura Betti) – became forever transformed by the encounter with not too talkative presence of a person with a hidden (connotative) angelic aura (Terence Stamp).

Pasolini’s “Theorem” is a school of holy pedagogy and teaches us the difference between profane – externally and/or internally conformist life and a spiritually awakened way of being.

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This shot registers the moment when the news about the arrival of some distant relative of the family reached the household. Pasolini makes this scene in mono color to underline the tautological nature of philistine family life. But radical changes, which nobody consciously expects but everybody unconsciously yearns for are coming together with their guest.

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The first person who felt something unusual towards the newcomer was Emilia, the maid.

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Of course, Emilia misunderstood the silent emanations from the visitor, but her soul felt turbulent with energies she could never suspect living inside of her.

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After being affected by the silent impression from the visitor Emilia leaves the family of her employers and returning to the place of her birth, where she creates miracles and heals the sick.

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Soon Emilia feels the need to mourn and to sacrifice herself to help today’s civilization to rejuvenate/revitalize itself.

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Gradually other members of household start to feel that something strange begins to happen with how they feel themselves. Here we see how Lucia, the wife of the industrialist and mother of two children, confesses to the guest about what happens to her since his arrival.

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Lucia’s husband Paolo, the head of the household, shares his observations about how the presence of the guest has disturbed his picture of himself and destroyed his ideas about life.

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Lucia is in a horror of feeling forced to confront her identity as it really is and to act according to her true self.

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Paolo feels as an ancient nomadic tribesman and is ready to present to his creator his critical ideas about his destiny assigned by god. During this scene many viewers feel as though Paolo had revelatory moments of reviewing our lives, human life in general.

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For Lucia and Paolo’s daughter Odetta revelation of the sacredness of life (refused by people) connected with the presence of the visitor was so overwhelming that her sensitivity towards the imperfections of human life became too strong and she lost her desire and ability to communicate.

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The iconic image of Mary near the Cross serves as a semantic resume of the various reactions on spiritual revelation depicted in the film. Only here Susanna Pasolini (Pier Paolo’s mother in episodic role) mourns not only Savior’s earthly destiny but that of the whole Western civilization with its modernization/upgrading of money-making and weapon-systems.

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With the depiction of Pietro’s (Lucia and Paolo’s son) reaction on spiritual revelation Pasolini is going even farther than the macro apocalyptic ending – Pietro’s revolt is post-apocalyptic in a sense of being purely anarchic and narcissistic.

Lucia as the carrirer of the human sacred primordial energies
What is left – only the sacredness of human and nature’s primordial energies. Here we, the viewers, following Pasolini, return to the position Lucia has, to the holiness of human genome as last hope for our rejuvenation.

Posted on Dec 28, 2009 –   Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “Theorem” (1968) – Being Incarnated into Human Form as a Spiritual Revelation  by Acting-Out Politics