Analysis of Pier Paolo Pasolini's film

Outside a factory, a reporter is conducting a filmed poll among workers. More than inquiring about the owner's transfer of the factory to the workers, the reporter seems to want to extract from them a consensus with regard to his argument: a capitalist, when donating his property, makes a mistake, because he deprives the proletariat of the chance to make the revolution, and by leading all of humanity to identify with the bourgeoisie, it thwarts the class struggle. With the enunciation of this principle, it begins Theorem (1968), in which Pier Paolo Pasolini seems to dedicate himself more to explaining that the bourgeoisie is intrinsically guilty and needs to pay for its faults, than to demonstrating the formulated hypothesis.

The idea of ​​guilt to be expiated begins to creep into the film shortly after this preamble, when, over the images of a mountainous desert, the credits parade and a voice is heard-over pronounce a phrase taken from Bible (Exodus, 13, 18), which serves as an epigraph to the work: “So, then, God made the people go around by the way of the desert…”. The presence of the desert, over which the biblical sentence hovers, is already a first clue of the progressive return to a metahistorical temporality (that of myth) that Theorem will eventually propose, despite the down-to-earth objectivity that seemed to emanate from the first sequel's adoption of the documentary tone.

By opting for the myth, Pasolini distances himself from the evidence of facts to inquire the veracity of his own perceptions, of his own intuitions, without betraying the formal logic of a theorem, since what is sought in it is not necessarily the truth, but coherence in regarding its postulates. This option will also allow you to work more with figures than with characters. The Son, the Mother, the Daughter, the Maid and the Father are categories, to the point that they do not always have a proper name or, when they do, have their naming delayed: Pietro, Lucia, Odetta, Emilia (common name for the two maids , a kind of homage to the region of Emilia, to the peasant corner where they came from) are names rarely heard in the film and only later does it become known to whom they correspond; the Father has no name.

The retreat to biblical times - which will culminate, in the final plans of Theorem, in man’s clamor for divine manifestation – will bring into question the notion of the cosmic sacred, to which contemporary society has turned its back, and that of primordial sin, which permeates the entire film, making each of the aforementioned characters feel unconsciously guilty without having committed any sin.

Entering the plot itself, Pasolini shows how the life of a typical bourgeoisie family in Milan – but it could be in any other industrial city in Northern Italy – is affected by the arrival of a Guest. Of him, nothing is known: who he is ("A boy”, says Odetta), where it comes from. He appears in the middle of the other characters, from whom nothing differentiates him in terms of behavior, just as his sweetness towards the others casts doubt on whether he could be a foreign element to the group that came to destroy a world, in appearance, harmonious. The transformations resulting from his presence lead one to think much more of a case of entropy, that is, of disorder within a defined system, closed in on itself, an idea reinforced by the repeated focus on the wall and gate that protect the house.

The Guest is someone known and expected, whose presence instigates the manifestation of latent drives. For the Maid, he is the messenger archangel, who announces the advent of a new era (and it would not be difficult to draw a parallel between the Messiah and Emilia, who, after returning to her homeland, performs a miracle, attracts a small multitude of humble beings, ascends to heaven and, in the end, sacrifices itself for the sake of Humanity); for the bourgeois family it will be the exterminating angel, who has come to lay bare the moral wounds of a society turned only to itself. Seeing an angel in the Guest does not invalidate the hypothesis of entropy, since these spiritual beings can symbolize sublimated human aspirations.

If the Guest's embrace with Emilia can be interpreted as a way of establishing a link between the two forces present in that enclosure (that of work and that of capital), the relationship he maintains with the other members of the house is nothing more than than the way to establish incest within the family. By having sex with the Guest, the Son is possessed by the Father; the Mother is possessed by the Son; the Daughter is owned by the Father; the Father possesses the Son, because this time it is the Father who exercises the active principle, the prerogative of the Guest in other sexual relations. The incestuous relationship, however, occurs without those involved being fully aware that they are practicing it, since the object of desire is always a substitute for another object before which desire does not dare to manifest itself, which will not prevent , likewise, the feeling of guilt and self-punishment.

The emptiness left by the loss of the object of desire leads Odetta (who noticed, in the garden, an absence that not even the photo of the Guest can fill) to withdraw into her muteness; Pietro (after accepting his own failure as a painter, for not being able to portray the Guest except for a blue stain) to retreat into his creative impotence; Lucia (who will cast the same gaze on another boy's clothing that she had cast on the Guest's clothing) cloistering herself in a church; the industrialist (attracted by the same blue eyes and the same wild manner of the Guest that he finds in another young man) to shut himself up in the desert.

For the Daughter, the Son and the Mother, it is a question of self-punishment dictated by the introjection of an external, coercive and castrating authority. As for the Father (the tacit social source from which the interdictions emanate), he can be seen as the representative of a human condition that, having lost reference to the sacred – not in a religious sense, but as a vital drive, an Edenic world, because uncontaminated by bourgeois logic, in Pasolini's view –, he is condemned to wander in the desert, to atone for his guilt. Naked, because only by completely freeing himself from the prison of the envelope (the clothes, the social mask, the impositions of the body), will man be able to return to his primitive state and rediscover his divine origin.

Returning to the divine origin means recognizing the absence of the Father as the loss of a transcendent ordering principle. Therefore, the Father of Theorem is he who has no name, he who said, "I am who I am" (Exodus, 3, 14), not the industrialist. This is rather a son, another Oedipus in Pasolinian filmography, who has to get rid of his human desires and conflicts in order to reach elevation. Indeed, it is not difficult to draw a parallel with the lumbering hero of Greek tragedy, when one considers that Odetta can be identified with Antigone rather than Electra in her fixation on paternal affection.

Like the daughter of Oedipus, Odetta cultivates family affections, to the point of not being able to break the ties of childhood, assisting her father in his illness (in a sequence dominated by the excerpt “Agnus Dei” from the Requiem, by Mozart: and the lamb of God is Christ the Son). The industrialist, in addition to the disease in his legs, had also been “blinded”, although the light that blinds him – twice, in consecutive scenes, one of them interspersed with a shot of the desert – perhaps refers more to Saulo’s lightning on the road to Damascus, which, after the luminous manifestation, becomes Paul. Paolo, name not pronounced in the film, but attributed to the Father in the eponymous novel derived from Theorem, in which Pasolini writes that the baptismal name deprives a father of his authority, the profane, returning him to his status as a son (Chapter 25).

And the children, by rebelling against their parents within capitalist society, only promote an internecine war, never a revolution, according to the director, fearful of humanity's identification with the bourgeoisie. If one accepts this premise, one can better understand the preamble of Theorem: without the class struggle, the revolt against the owners of power will be reduced to a dispute within the same group, losing its libertarian sense.

In 1970, in a statement published by the magazine New Topics, said the filmmaker: “Freedom is, therefore, a masochistic attack on conservation. Freedom cannot manifest itself in any other way than through great or small martyrdom. And each martyr martyrs himself through the conservative executioner”. Given this, it is understandable why, for Pasolini, only after a long and painful journey of atonement, human beings, finally stripped of their bourgeois conditioning, can climb the mountain of theophany again.

*Mariarosaria Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Modern Letters at FFLCH-USP. Author, among other books, of Italian cinematographic neo-realism: a reading (Edusp).

Originally published in the magazine Theorem – Film Criticism. Porto Alegre, nº 1, August 2002.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank