The Exterminating Angel: The Inner Prison

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The exterminating angel was made by Luis Bunuel in Mexico in 1962 and is considered one of the Spanish director’s greatest surrealist masterpieces.

A group of rich bourgeois, with no explainable and rational regions, are trapped in the villa where they attended a social dinner. No obstacle really prevents them from leaving the house, but a strange spell forces them to remain prisoners. They will slowly begin to sink into an inexorable degradation, made up of oppression and brutal instincts, which will self-destruct.

According to the New York Times it is among the best 1000 movies ever made. One of the cult films of the great Spanish director.

The Non-Plot

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During a social dinner of a group of rich bourgeois in a villa, the servants mysteriously leave their jobs. After dinner, the guests listen to one of them, Blanca, playing the piano. Then, inexplicably, instead of going home, they fall asleep on the floor and on the sofas of the great hall.

The next morning a spell seems to have been thrown at them. Nobody is able to leave the house, over time they become quarrelsome, aggressive, suffering.

An older guest dies, Blanca seems to be seriously ill, two lovers commit suicide locked in a closet. They begin to destroy the walls to find water and not die of thirst, while a flock of sheep and a bear roam the house.

It is difficult to define the plot of the exterminating Angel. More than anything else, it is a situation that becomes a brilliant surreal metaphor, and allows us to observe under the microscope the madness of the rich bourgeoisie from Bunuel’s point of view. the bourgeois are trapped by their own rituals from which they cannot escape, condemned to self-destruction and conflict among themselves.

In vain they try to blame external elements. The bear, for example, who appears before their eyes as a satanic beast that holds them captive.

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The Exterminating Angel: Mysterious Apparitions

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One of the most evocative scenes of the film is the one in which a hand comes alive and threatens to approach one of the protagonists. The woman is already seriously ill and for some hours she seems to be slowly sinking into her madness. The sight of her hand causes her to permanently lose control of her mind. She tries to defend herself and hit her with a pen, pinning her to the floor. A real horror scene with a grotesque effect inspired by director Sam Raimi, in one of his sequels to the film The House.

Another disturbing and mysterious presence is the bear roaming the mansion. He wanders in the bedrooms upstairs, towards the end of the film he seems to get aggressive too and climbs the walls. In one of the versions of the film the guests watch him and comment in terror: “He’s the one holding us captive. He’s the Beast!” But the bear is framed by the camera as an innocent animal that is playing, and here too is the grotesque and mocking effect. The bourgeois prisoners of the villa reveal themselves to be inept who project the evil they carry inside themselves outside of them.

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Meanings

Perhaps the guests are the ruling class of Franco’s Spain, unable to put an end to the banquet snatched from the hands of the workers. Or in a more universal sense, perhaps, it is the rich who are unable to understand the prison in which they are held. Unable to open their minds to wider horizons. A dangerous prison that generates mutual aggression, disease and death. That same prison from which the proletariat managed to escape in time, giving up work and their livelihood, in order not to suffer the same fate.

Production details

  • Original title: El ángel exterminador
  • Country of production: Mexico
  • Year of production: 1962
  • Genre: comedy, drama, grotesque, surreal
  • Length: 95 minutes
  • Director: Luis Buñuel
  • Screenplay: Luis Alcoriza, Luis Buñuel
  • Cinematography: Gabriel Figueroa
  • Editing: Carlos Savage

The budget for The Exterminating Angel was approximately 1 million Mexican pesos (about $80,000 USD in 1962). The film was not a commercial success at the time of its release, grossing only about $200,000 USD worldwide. However, its reputation has grown over time, and it is now considered one of the greatest films ever made.

It is difficult to say how much money the film would have made if it were released today, as the film market has changed drastically since 1962. However, it is likely that the film would have made a more significant profit, given its critical acclaim and its status as a cult classic.

Reception

The Exterminating Angel was a controversial film upon its release, but it is now considered a classic of surrealist cinema. It was entered into competition at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Director. The film was met with mixed reactions from critics, with some praising it for its audacity and originality, while others found it offensive and provocative.

Director

Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) was a Spanish-born Mexican film director who is considered one of the masters of surrealist cinema. His filmography includes films such as Un chien andalou (1929), The Exterminating Angel (1962), Viridiana (1961), Belle de jour (1967), and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).

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