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Un Chien Andalou: Nightmares and Surrealism

Alex Baucom

Un Chien Andalou, a French short film directed by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, is a very unconventional film for its time and still today. The film, which has no central plot, established setting, or development of character is made up of a sequence of random occurring events that have no apparent connection to each other. This disjointed quality of the film is what makes Dali’s influence very evident. The surrealistic element of Un Chien Andalou makes it reminiscent of a nightmare, one that could have been an exact representation of one had by its creators. This also combines with the satirical aspect of the film, which makes the audience further question its meaning when it wasn’t meant to be dissected.

One of the more nightmarish scenes of this short film was in the beginning, when it showed a man sharpening a straight blade and then cutting a woman’s eye in half. The scene then cuts to a shot of the moon being cut in half by a cloud, which seemed like a mockery of the grotesque eye-cutting scene. These match-in-action scenes that are put together almost give the feel that they’re supposed to be connected, even though the creators stated themselves upon release that there simply was no rhyme or reason to it. This is exemplary of the satirical undertones of the film that has no conventional, logic way to dissect its meaning.

Furthermore, the scene in which ants are infesting an eerily calm human hand is really the only one that is repeated in the film. This is also a nightmarish scene from the short movie that brings in elements from the surreal world and what is actually reality, stemming from what could possibly be a phobia or an unconscious fear. By combining two completely different yet still ordinary things such as a hand and ants, the uncomfortable surrealistic purpose of the movie is established. The hand’s reaction, or lack thereof, was eerily dull compared to a real reaction by someone with ants crawling through their hand. This lends to the theory that this film could have stemmed from dreams or nightmares, because it is common in a nightmare for one to lose reactive abilities to what’s going on around them.

Two thematic elements in the short film that stuck out to me in terms of the dreamlike state of Un Chien Andalou were that of lust, seen in the attempted “rape” scene, and anger, exemplified when a character lashes out and shoots another. These two aspects of the movie heighten the feeling that one is witnessing the randomness of the unconscious dreams because these are common emotions that are manifested in a dream itself. This also gives meaning to the combination of surrealistic and realistic elements that were played out in this movie, and that because of this, it can’t fit perfectly into a puzzle of logic.

In conclusion, Buñuel and Dali’s strange and eye opening short film Un Chien Andalou is one that is difficult to categorize and dissect by what we know as typical film. Although this is true, it’s definitely evident that its purpose was to combine surrealism and realism, illustrated by the possibilities of our unconscious mind. It is an important film to look at in terms of its daring quality and its ability to question audiences everywhere.


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