in Criterion Month, Review

The Exterminating Angel (1962)

I’ve been watching a lot of The Zone lately (that’s what I call Twilight Zone) and let me tell ya man, this movie fits that mold just like a glove. Or maybe more like a crazy wacky glove that you can’t take off. Regardless, this one has been on my list for a long time. Was it everything I could have asked for? Yeah, I guess. Let’s get into it and then not be able to get out.

Luis Buñuel is a weird guy. Even if you haven’t heard of him you’ve likely seen the below image:

Buñuel’s razor-to-the-eye shot from his 21-minute film Un Chien Andalou (1929), is arguably one of the most iconic images of the silent film era. But outside of that surreal short film and indelible scene, I can’t say I know much about the guy. This despite the fact that Buñuel has a staggering 9 films in the Criterion Collection. His page on the Criterion site describes the Spanish filmmaker as one of cinema’s “great subversives and mischief makers.” Also, that Buñuel is a “surrealist” who would often attack the bourgeoisie and the church.

The above description of Buñuel sums up The Exterminating Angel well. Set in Mexico City, The Exterminating Angel follows a group of rich snobs who after a lavish party in a mansion, find themselves unable to leave. Time passes, and some guests resort to smashing into walls to find water pipelines, eating the host’s sheep, and even suicide. Then at the end, just as inexplicably, the guests are able to leave again.

Buñuel himself never explained what the film meant. I love this. This means whatever read I come up with now is correct because it’s mine. Hmm, let’s see… Well, I can’t speak to the era or setting of this film, but I can make assumptions based on this film’s representation of the rich. My read is that The Exterminating Angel is a portrait of how isolated the rich are from the ways of everyday people. They live in their own little worlds and once that world is complicated they panic. They don’t know how to take care of themselves, or each other, and resort to savagery

I love a surreal setup that avoids explanation. Because it’s not about the setup, it’s about the metaphor. The setup is just a means to an end. This is the same reason I love The Twilight Zone. Don’t bother yourself with semantics, just engage yourself with the story and what it represents to you.

The film itself feels like a play with characters occupying limited spaces. I enjoyed the moody black and white photography and though I can’t recall a single character’s name, I liked the performances. All this movie needs is a monologue from ‘ol Rod Serling to open and close the film. Now that would be my kind of movie.