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Cinema and Technology: Simon of the Desert (1965)

Zafar Anjum | Dec. 22, 2009
This is the time of the year when God and the glamour of technology come together in a bright, dazzling way.

Since we are reaching the end of this year and Christmas and the holidays are round the corner, I thought I would leave you with a sober thought by talking about a film that looks at spiritualism and technology.

This is the time of the year when God and the glamour of technology come together in a bright, dazzling way. Think of the illuminated streets and shopping malls, the festive spirit, the exchange of gifts and the celebration through various symbols of a great spiritual figures birth, a figure who changed the destiny of mankind.

I cannot think of a film more appropriate for this time than Luis Bunuels Simon of the Desert (1965). Bunuel (1900-1983), a Spanish-born filmmaker who acquired Mexican citizenship, is considered one of the worlds greatest filmmakers. He worked in Mexico, France, Spain and the United States and made a number of remarkable surreal and philosophical films including Belle de Jour, That Curious Object of Desire, and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, among others.

Simon of the Desert is the last film that Bunuel made in Mexico, using Mexican actors. The film, at its 45 minutes length, is incomplete because the producer ran out of money after five reels.

The film is about the main character, Simon, a stylite, played by Claudio Brook. Simon is an ascetic who spends his life on top of a pillar, atoning for his sins, and dedicating his life to the prayer of God.

In the early part of the film, Simon is about a smaller pillar to a taller pillar, a gift from a rich benefactorthe whole episode suggesting opportunities for professional advancement even in the realm of renunciation.

When the film begins, Simon has spent six year, six months and six days666 being the mark of the beaston his old pillar. His quest for holiness attracts the devils attention to him. The devil appears to him in several formsa beautiful woman carrying a water pitcher, a seductress dressed in a school girlish sailor suit, a young male shepherd with fake curls, a worldly woman with a fancy hairdo and finally a miniskirted dancer in a New York nightclub.

Each time the devil appears to tempt or distract Simon, he recognises him and does not fall prey to his mischief. Until the final scene when this rupture occurs: the worldly woman tries to tempt him and an airplane flying overheadthe only symbol of modern technology in the film so farseals the deal. In the next and last scene of the film, we see Simon as a suited and booted young New Yorker in a nightclub throbbing with lusty, dancing bodies. There is a live instrumental rock band on stage and the devil tells Simón that the hipsters are dancing a dance called Radioactive Flesh. The film ends there.


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