Surrealism, Psychoanalysis and Luis Bunuel
Surrealism was founded in 1924 by Andre Breton and its underlying aim was to create a state of super reality from dreams. Elements of surprise and juxtapositions are used to create surrealism in works of art. Surrealism has its based on the existence of a superior consciousness state manifesting itself in both the conscious (realism) and unconscious (dreams) states. This notion is based on Freud Sigmund’s work of psychoanalysis that attributes an unconscious element of the human mind to being a key factor in the development of an individual’s personality. Sigmund states that the unconscious state is the source of dreams, and this acts as the building base for the surrealism in the film industry.
Luis Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel is a black and white surreal film that revolves around the life of Nobile, who is a respected rich gentleman. Nobile invites his friends over to his magnificent residence for dinner after attending an opera. However, before the guests start arriving a strange happening occurs and the servants are compelled by an irresistible urge to walk out. The guests arrive, the party flourishes, but trouble arises at the end of the party when the guests are barred from leaving Nobile’s music room by an unseen force. Strangely, no physical restraint is forced on the guests but for no apparent reason, everybody planning to leave just halts at the door and goes back to the music room. As time goes by, the group is faced with hunger and thirst prompting an increase of tension in the room, such that some guests become murderous and cannibalistic in the bid to survive.
Luis develops surrealism in the film through a combination of different shots and angles. As the guests try to leave after the party, a full shot is used to show the entire body of the individual, with the head nearing the top of the frame and the feet at the bottom. Although the focus is on the individual, plenty of background detail is visible to the viewer. Luis uses this to develop the social relationship around the full figure. At the background, while Blanca plays the piano sonata, we can see the guests who have been unable to leave settle down for the night, revoking the viewers to the questions to why the sudden behavior change. All the guests seem to be wondering on the same issue too. Similar to this shot is the long shot which shows full-length body images, but with symmetry to the surrounding in order to add realism. From the movie, this can be seen from the boy and his balloon and it is used to develop the environment, range and public distance. It jolts the viewer back into realism from the surrealism scenes.
An extreme long shot can be seen in the scene where the crowd of the people gathers outside the house and are unable to go in. It is used to set the scene as it captures the exterior of the house where the bizarre happening is emanating from. This shot is used to capture the thrill and awe in the scene through gathering a general impression rather than a specific one, from the collective mystery that the crowd cannot explain. Luis also used repetition in the film as he asserts that it created a hypnotic and dreamlike effect. A middle shot of Sylvia while she is toasting at the dinner table shows her upper trunk and is used to develop personal relationship. The surreal effect is got from the scene since Sylvia toasts twice, unconscious of her replication of course. Inside the church, a deep focus shot is used. The middle, fore and backgrounds are all focused on providing clear and sharp images of the whole congregation.
Surrealism is caught by the general atmosphere of impending doom that the crowd seems to be collectively experiencing. The close-up done on the moving hand magnifies it making it the focus of the scene. In addition, it is also used in the scene where the hand breaks the brush. Magnifying the image further to an unrealistic human eye experience in order to depict a dramatic effect is captured in the extreme-close up done on individuals eyes after they see the hand. As both scenes bring an element of closeness to the images, they hang on the viewers’ psychology to create fear and curiosity as they put their minds to wonder on what the scene will culminate into. Various angles are used in the film. The scene where the slaughtered sheep are being cooked on the floor with fire made from pieces of broken furniture and floorboards is done from a low angle. The amplification of the cooking adds a level of hugeness to the scene inspiring a sense of doom to the viewer, as his psychology is dominated by the picture on the screen. As Beatriz and Eduardo close themselves in the closet to commit murder, a high angle is used. The camera is set above the couple making them appear small against their background. The general view of the murder scene is able to be less scary than it would have been.
The focus therefore is shifted from the couple to the actions that they exhibit to indicate their decision to commit the murder. The viewer’s broad expectation that they may have gone into the closet to make out is changed by the scene. The eye level angle can be traced from the scene in the church that focuses on the people sitting at the end. The camera provides a neutral shot infusing a normalcy aspect in the movie since the actors heads are on the same level with the camera’s focus. This makes the scene feel or appear as if someone is watching the individuals without their knowledge. The oblique angle used is seen at the scene where the guests have settled in the music room to sleep and the dream that they have. The tilting of the camera infuses elements of imbalance and insecurity that the actors may be undergoing.
The camera adapts to the eyes of one individual helping the viewer to see what they are seeing. It is used to introduce the viewer to a stream of the character’s consciousness. Bird’s eye view angle can be seen near the end of the film when the sheep are going to the church. The viewer has an overhead view of the scene, which is an unnatural one. It elevates the viewer to a godlike position infusing an element of power. The objects appear to be small than their actual size making them insignificant. The object on the ground is unaware that someone is watching from above because conscious sight or perception is absent.