Oedipus Rex

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"Pasolini’s Terrifying… Compassionate… Magnificent…"
  • NR
  • 1967
  • 1 hr 44 min
  • 7.2  (6,821)

Oedipus Rex, directed by the visionary Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1967, is an avant-garde adaptation of Sophocles' classical Greek tragedy. Featuring a stellar cast including Silvana Mangano, Franco Citti, and Alida Valli, the film is an evocative and surreal interpretation of the ancient myth that explores themes of fate, identity, and the inexorable nature of destiny. Known for his controversial and often political works, Pasolini brings his unique cinematic style to a story that has captivated audiences for millennia.

The film commences with a modern prologue, which sets the stage for the timeless nature of its tale. It features a young boy named Oedipus, played by Franco Citti, who is fated to fulfill a chilling prophecy. The ancient oracle has decreed that he will kill his father and marry his mother, a destiny seemingly beyond his control or understanding. As the narrative unfolds, the audience is transported from the contemporary setting to the distant past of Thebes, the ancient city where the core of the tragedy takes place.

Silvana Mangano boasts a dual role in the film, portraying both Jocasta, the queen of Thebes and the ill-fated mother of Oedipus, as well as a woman in the modern segment of the film. Her performance brings depth and complexity to the character of Jocasta, whose life becomes irrevocably entangled with the prophecy that dooms her family.

Alida Valli, another icon of Italian cinema, takes on the role of Merope, adding gravitas to the story through her characterization. Valli's Merope is instrumental in the early life of Oedipus, and her portrayal adds another layer to the exploration of maternal influence in the narrative.

At its heart, Oedipus Rex is a tale of a man on a quest for truth. Oedipus becomes the ruler of Thebes after solving the riddle of the Sphinx, which had plagued the city. His intelligence and courage win him the throne and the hand of the widowed queen, Jocasta. As Oedipus's fame grows, so does his hubris, setting the stage for the tragic revelation of his true origins.

The cinematography of the film is stark and haunting, with Pasolini using a combination of barren landscapes, ancient ruins, and sparse sets to create a sense of timelessness and desolation. The visual austerity complements the narrative's exploration of the human condition, striking at the core of the viewer's psyche with its depiction of the consequences of actions and the ever-present shadow of fate.

One of the film's most compelling aspects is the use of dramatic irony. The audience, aware of the prophecy, watches as Oedipus relentlessly seeks to avoid and debunk it, only to inadvertently draw closer to its fulfillment. The tension created by this knowledge serves as the driving force of the narrative, keeping the viewer engaged in the protagonist's tragic journey of self-discovery.

Pasolini's interpretation incorporates elements of psychological depth and Freudian theory, delving into the subconscious motivations and fears of the characters. The Oedipal complex, named after the myth itself, plays a central role in the film, blurring the line between ancient myth and modern psychoanalysis.

Another laudable feature of Oedipus Rex is its score. The music is both haunting and evocative, enhancing the story's emotive power. The use of anachronistic elements throughout the film, including the score, costumes, and props, blend the ancient with the modern, suggesting the universality of the Oedipal story and its resonance through the ages.

Pasolini's directorial approach includes long takes, minimal camera movement, and a focus on the expressive faces of the actors. This method creates a meditative rhythm that allows the viewer to absorb the tragic events unravelling before them. The sparse dialogue, much of which is derived directly from Sophocles' text, is delivered with a poignancy that echoes the oral tradition of ancient Greek storytelling.

Controversial for its time, Oedipus Rex uses startling imagery and explicit content to explore the darker aspects of human nature and the taboo subjects inherent in the original myth. Pasolini's film is not for the faint-hearted. Yet, it is not gratuitous; rather, such depictions are integral to the portrayal of the unconscious forces driving the characters towards their dismal fates.

In essence, Oedipus Rex is a cinematic experience that defies convention and challenges the viewer both intellectually and emotionally. Pasolini translates the ancient tragedy into a modern cinematic language, creating a film that remains a timeless and thought-provoking piece. The potent mixture of predestined tragedy, enthralling performances, and powerful directorial vision make this adaptation an enduring work that continues to provoke discussion and analysis from audiences and critics alike.

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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    1 hr 44 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    7.2  (6,821)