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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 the film remains incomplete, we are not sure what Bunuel intended to convey but in his interviews he has pointed out certain things. To the question that the devil takes Simon to the twentieth century and brings him to a noisy discotheque, he replied: I dont know. You must remember that the film is not finished…Simon should have ended up on an even taller column, some twenty meters high, next to the sea, where the hierarchy of the church would come to see him. I filmed for only eighteen days. Since the storyline breaks, I had to look for an ending that didnt have Simon praying atop his column…I was interested in seeing Simons reaction when he returns to the world. But the end result was dubious.

Bunuel was not known for his spirituality and he often invited unfavourable comments from the Vatican on his films. On his belief system, Buñuel, in a 1977 article in The New Yorker, wrote: I'm not a Christian, but I'm not an atheist, either…I'm weary of hearing that accidental old aphorism of mine, 'I'm an atheist, thank God.' It's outworn. Dead leaves. In 1951, I made a small film called Mexican Bus Ride, about a village too poor to support a church and a priest. The place was serene, because no one suffered from guilt. It's guilt we must escape from, not God.

Therefore, showing the airplane, standing in for technology, as a world transformative phenomenon, even a vehicle of the devil, and the crazy, radioactive flesh dance (allusion to nuclear technology and its inherent menaces) do not necessarily mean that Bunuel was preaching against technology. At best he is ambiguous. Im always ambiguous, he has said. Ambiguity is a part of my nature because it breaks with immutable preconceived ideas. Where is truth? Truth is a myth…

Yet Bunuel was aware of the loss of the power of spirituality in humans in the modern civilization. In fact, holiness counts for very little now, he said. But though we are not believers, we can feel that as a loss.

Zafar Anjum is the online editor of MIS Asia dot com.   


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