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.