A man (played by Luis Buñuel) sharpens a razor, walks out onto an upper-story balcony and, underneath the full moon, cuts straight across a seated, willing woman’s eyeball. Director Buñuel hated this idea of co-scenarist Salvador Dalí’s. Good.
The 17-minute film jumps ahead eight years and bounds sixteen years back. In a summary shot outdoors, the woman seems displeased at what the man is showing her. All that’s visible of him, alongside her face, is his wristwatch on his outstreched arm, with his opposite hand pointing out the time. Time! After a series of anticlimaxes suggesting reprieves from time’s end, the film closes on a stunning image of the couple buried standing in the earth, their faces visible, dead.
It is the power and (still) surprise of the film’s images, and of their collision and connections, that account for the film’s reputation as an essential work of Surrealism. Many of the dreamlike images reflect the idea that sexuality is an obsessive defense against mortal awareness. A bicyclist falls down on a Paris street. The overhead shot, correlative to the woman’s gaze from her upstairs hotel window, reveals the two wheels of his bicycle right below him—a displacement of his testicles. Mobility is power, sexuality, life; but this burp of temporary immobility connects to the image of permanent immobility at the end.
Another image: man groping woman’s under-the-blouse breasts; in the next shot, he is blind, her groped top, naked; next, her naked buttocks have replaced her breasts. Many things appear in two’s, including two nitwit priests, roped to a piano, being dragged across the floor.
At one point, the man’s mouth disappears; next, there is a beard there. The woman checks an arm pit, but we know better the source of the displacement.
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