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Suppressed Emotion in Un Chien Andalou

The film Un Chien Andalou, directed by Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, has no plot or continuous narrative. According to Roger Ebert’s review of the film, it is specifically tailored to make no sense, and indeed the filmmakers laughed away attempts at explanation. However, the theme of suppressed emotion is prevalent throughout the film and can be used as a way to glean some meaning from it.

The opening scene is the film’s most famous—and possibly its most confounding, though there are many contenders for this title. The cheery music that had played throughout the credits gives way to a shot of a man on a balcony, and soon after a razor blade slicing what we are supposed to believe is a human eye. This image is startling and violent, even with the knowledge that the eye belonged to a dead calf and not a woman. The opening sequence seems to want to tell the viewer that this watching this film will be nothing like the experience of other films, that this film is not afraid to take something gruesome and make it the focus of the very beginning. Usually, especially in the 1920s, films would not begin with something so repulsive, but this opening encourages the audience to let go of preconceived notions of what a film is like, as well as general ideas of propriety and convention. In including this image as the opening shot, the filmmakers suggest that violence is something natural that society encourages us to repress, and that this film—and by extension, the viewers—will not heed society. The various taboos and norms broken throughout the course of the film are all startling to varying degrees, but beginning with the eye slicing promotes the idea of the natural impulse to cause pain.

Another sequence in the film that evokes the suppressed human instinct is the one in which a man sexually assaults a woman. This attack seemingly comes out of nowhere, and though one could argue that this is due to the logic (or, rather, lack thereof) of the film, it could actually be suggesting that all men are inches from acting on their desires constantly, and need little incentive to do so. This extended sequence is very forward in its depiction of the man’s advances, and is, like the opening sequence, shocking and unpleasant to watch. It is debatable whether the intent was to portray the man’s actions in a negative light—for a film made by those who cherished the idea of breaking social norms, perhaps unwanted sexual advances are another way of breaking the tight grip of social demands—but there is no doubt that this extended sequence highlights the single-mindedness of sexual desire.  As the woman fights back, you wonder if this is a symbol for continuing repressed ideals in the face of newfangled surrealist thinking. Should the woman give into the man, and her own inner desires? Or is the film saying that perhaps not all heeding of instinct is a good thing? Another possibility is that none of this makes any sense, and the filmmakers simply presented a series of provocative images to make the audience feel ill at ease—another breaking of established convention.

In conclusion, though the short film Un Chien Andalou has no central narrative to speak of, it is clearly not a film completely lacking in meaning. Even if each scene was only intended to provoke a reaction, the infusion of base human emotion gives the film a thematic resonance that echoes the filmmakers’ surrealist leanings.

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6 responses to “Suppressed Emotion in Un Chien Andalou

  1. tnp773

    Thanks for posting. I liked your mini shot-by-shot analysis. Particularly how you described potential surrealist motives behind the chaos within the scenes and relate them to a hidden message. I was hoping you would connect the dots a bit more about how the scenes inform us about repressed emotions and how that relates to a surrealist intent. Was it that the extreme expression of twisted emotions like the man’s sexual advances resemble the suppressed emotion those in our society experience often? Any insight would be appreciated. Cool ideas!

  2. kstedem ⋅

    Thanks for the post! I really enjoyed the title and how it truly represents the film. It is true that this film has no narrative and that the characters are so unattached that it is harder to get an emotion connection with the viewer. The suppressed emotions in the film allow for Bunūel & Dali to create those dream like sequences and a film with no narrative.

  3. ltimlin ⋅

    Your analysis of the scene where the man advances on the woman helps to clarify an otherwise bewildering film. I especially like how you touched upon the proposed “single-mindedness of sexual desire” because it is clear that not only the man thinks only of himself in the sequence, but also the woman when she kisses the man on the beach. It’s interesting that the woman strongly suppresses any desires she might have in one scene just to throw away her resistance only a scene later, tossing aside any social expectations of propriety.

  4. I really liked your analysis on the assault scene. It’s interesting that you mention that Surrealist’s tend to try and defy social norms and what society dictates because I saw a connection between this film and a common idea that is present today. Present society ponders the question does violence advocate violence-especially in relation to media such as film. Before the assault scene the woman in the street is hit by a car and left there. The next shot is of the Man and Woman looking down at the hit woman in the street. The audience is able see a change in the Man’s demeanor instantly; his face takes on a mask of unrestrained anticipation. This sequence gives the audience the idea of continuity and the idea that the violence of the hit and run is what awoke the suppressed desire to assault the woman.

  5. I think the directors did not want people to analyze the imagery in the piece, while it was difficult to follow, there were characters with constant personalities and motivations. So I do think there were some elements of narrative present, however they were scarce and nearly impossible to find

  6. kperetz ⋅

    I like your analysis of the opening scene. You seem to interpret the scene a lot like I did and I liked how you analyzed it in the historical context. Additionally, I found your interpretation of the assault scene very informative and it was interesting how you related it to the surrealist movement.

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