Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí’s Un Chien Andalou has become famous for its unsettling, disjointed, and, at times, disturbing film challenging bourgeoise film of the time. It has become a forerunner for the avant-garde film genre and milestone in pushing the boundaries in the early film era. The opening sequence where a woman gets her eye sliced open with a razor blade and a man with ants crawling out of the palm of his hand have become forever memorable tokens of early film history.
Apparently, Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí based the film around dreams that each of them had. For Buñuel, that dream was of a cloud passing in front of the moon, like a razor blade across an eye ball. For Dalí, the dream surrounded a man with ants crawling out of his hand. Those two ideas were enough to push them to create what would become Un Chien Andalou.
The story appears to be unexpected and disjointed on purpose. Buñuel even said, “Nothing, in the film, symbolizes anything. The only method of investigation of the symbols would be, perhaps, psychoanalysis.”1 With that being said, the film does have a loose, but present, plot and themes that send a message and tell a story. There is clearly a focus on the uninhibited and animalistic young male characters control for power over the young woman.
The resistant, but powerless woman attempts to get away from the violent and uncontrollable man. However, that resistance is futile. The man on the other hand is also powerless to his own desires and lack of control. The visuals presented don’t need to be a metaphor in order to show that social dynamic. A dynamic that continues to dwell in the underbelly of society.
The way that Buñuel and Dalí weaved the story of the couple together was in itself a dream sequence. This can be seen by the way that time jumps and characters change roles. The physical and emotional transitions of the settings, roles, and actions, were disconnected and congruent at the same time. An atmospheric feeling that was harnessed later by filmmakers like David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky or Leos Carax.
Obviously the eye slicing is what this film is most remembered for, but there are other unusual imagery in Un Chien Andalou that deserves recognition. For the scene with the eye, Buñuel used a calves head/eye as the double for the young woman. The use of close ups, and uncomfortable subject matter, made the stunt double almost unnoticeable. The hand with the ants crawling out of it appeared to be a real fake hand, opposed to a superimposed shot, with real ants coming out of it. Despite Buñuel’s claim of the film being devoid of symbology, there are theories that the antsy hand symbolizes fetish, masterbation, and psychic infestation. Shots of the fidgety male hand overcome with sexual desire so strong that he must resort to sexual assault is coupled with shots of a severed hand, perhaps symbolizing castration and/or shame.
After watching so many films from the US, I forgot that other countries were less bashful in their use of nudity and gore. Although it is difficult to compare Un Chien Andalou to other films that have stood the test of time. Other films that remain famous for their contribution to film tended to be more commercial and mainstream, whereas, Un Chien Andalou was not a film marketed for the box office.
Directed by: Luis Buñuel
Cinematography: Albert Duverger
Written by: Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí
Editing By: Luis Buñuel
Starring: Simone Mareuil, Pierre Batcheff, Luis Buñuel, & Salvador Dalí.
Genre: avant-garde, experimental
Distributed by: Les Grands Films Classiques
Link to Video Below:
1 – Sitney, P. Adams (1974). Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde. New York: Oxford University Press.